Lacks v. Ferguson Reorganized School District R-2

147 F.3d 718 (1998)

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Lacks v. Ferguson Reorganized School District R-2

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
147 F.3d 718 (1998)

EL

Facts

Cecilia Lacks (plaintiff), a high school English and journalism teacher, routinely allowed her students to use profanity and vulgarity in written assignments, which were at times videotaped, read aloud, or published in the school newspaper. Lacks’s school principal and other administrators met with her several times to discuss student complaints about the use of profanity and vulgarity in student works read or recited in Lacks’s classroom. During these meetings, the principal clarified to Lacks that the school did not allow student profanity in the classroom or in students’ written work. During the school district’s investigation, Lacks admitted she was aware of the school’s antiprofanity policy but strongly defended her preferred teaching method of promoting free student expression. The district superintendent charged Lacks with violating a school-board policy requiring teachers to enforce the student-discipline code, including its section prohibiting profanity. At a school-board hearing, the school board (defendant) terminated Lacks’s teaching contract. The board determined that Lacks was aware of the antiprofanity policy but that she instead persistently chose to not prohibit profanity even when requested to do so. Lacks sued the school board in state court, alleging the board violated her constitutional rights in firing her. The board removed the case to federal district court, which denied the district’s motion to dismiss Lacks’s First Amendment claims. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Lacks on her request that the court review the board’s termination of her teaching contract. In its order granting partial summary judgment, the district court held that Lacks did not willfully violate the board’s antiprofanity policy because she believed profanity was permitted in the context of creative works. The district court allowed Lacks’ First Amendment rights claims to proceed to a jury trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Lacks. The school board appealed to the Eighth Circuit.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Arnold, C.J.)

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