A former student at First Coast Technical College has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the college violated her constitutional rights when she was suspended based on a post on social media.
The college did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the complaint filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Dia’mon Dallas was suspended from the school indefinitely because another student reported to the college’s administrators that a photograph of Dallas and her fiance holding legally purchased and lawfully possessed firearms at a gun range in Palatka was posted on Facebook.
Two days after the photograph was posted, Dallas was confronted on the college’s St. Augustine campus by the assistant principal and informed that she was being suspended indefinitely for appearing in a picture holding a firearm.
During the suspension meeting, the assistant principal said that in the posted picture, Dallas had a “mean look” on her face, was possessing “illegal guns” and stated that “things you do in the dark come in to the light,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit contends that Dallas’s “purely off-campus Facebook communication with friends” constitutes speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as applied to the states through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
The complaint further alleges that punishing Dallas for speech that occurred outside of school hours, away from school grounds and not at a school-related activity, and that did not and could not interrupt the school environment, amounts to retaliation in violation of Article 1, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution.
The complaint asks the court to declare that the school violated Dallas’s rights under the federal and state constitutions and that a corrective statement be placed in her student file indicating that she was unconstitutionally disciplined and that her rights were violated.
The lawsuit also seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
Dallas is represented by Jacksonville Beach attorney Cord Byrd.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard.