A Ohio high school soccer player, who was suspended from his team for re-tweeting a pro-pot message on Twitter, is suing the school district over his punishment.
Clear Fork High School senior Jakob Neumann, 18, claims that school administration officials violated his 1st Amendment right to free speech and denied him due process when he appealed their decision, according to the Mansfield News Journal.
At issue is a tweet he posted with a picture that showed a hand holding marijuana next to a disposable lighter, with the caption: “Marijuana is my favorite.”
The teen’s father, Alfred Neumann, explained that the tweet was done outside of a school setting.
“It happened during the summer vacation, on our home computer — and he didn’t make any mention of the school or the team,” he said. “There’s a constitutional issue.”
“I’ve never actually done anything that would get me in trouble,” Jakob Neumann said. “I didn’t do anything that would be illegal.”
According to the lawsuit, Clear Fork’s athletic director, Benji Bethea, charged the senior with violating the district’s morality clause and drug, alcohol and tobacco policies.
Bethea initially imposed a one-year sports suspension, starting Aug. 7.
The Neumanns say they appealed the decision on Aug. 8 and Bethea revised the sanctions, suspending Jakob from the team for one-third of the season.
According to the filing, the family received a letter from the superintendent on the final day of the official suspension — offering an executive session Sept. 18 with the school board to discuss the matter. Despite the fact that the senior Neumann requested a public meeting, a closed hearing was scheduled instead.
On Sept. 15, he said, the family received a letter from Principal Brian Brown, saying the school had eliminated documents related to Jakob Neumann’s suspension, with a promise to revisit the school’s social media policy and to make the due process “cleaner” in those cases.
The lawsuit says Fred Neumann made three requests for his son’s records under Ohio public records laws, but was told by Principal Brown on or about Nov. 1 that acting Superintendent David Ritter had instructed him to destroy records of the disciplinary action.
According to the lawsuit, Jakob Neumann went to school on Dec. 20 to attend a dodge ball tournament only to be escorted out of the gym before the game by a school drug officer and the dean of students, who stated they believed the senior was high and may have had something in his water bottle.
Neumann turned over his water bottle for testing, and no illegal substances were found, according to court filings.
Fred Neumann said his son was ready to move on and forget about the suspension when the second incident occurred.
Neumann also said colleges had been considering his son, who had nearly a 4.0 grade-point average and ranks as the second highest scorer on the soccer team, as a potential recruit before the season started.
Following his suspension, only one college maintained contact.
Jakob Neumann, who graduated early from Clear Fork, is seeking $25,000 in compensatory damages and at least $50,000 in punitive damages, plus attorney fees from the school district.
Tom Boggioni is based in the quaint seaside community of Pacific Beach in less quaint San Diego. He writes about politics, media, culture, and other annoyances. Mostly he spends his days at the beach gazing at the horizon waiting for the end of the world, or the sun to go down. Whichever comes first.
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