Hatcher v. DeSoto County Board of Education, et al.
In April 2012, Amber Hatcher made plans to observe National Day of Silence, a student-led day of action sponsored by Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) in which thousands of students across the country remain silent to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. She asked for permission from her principal nearly a month before the event and provided information from GLSEN and Lambda Legal that explained the observance and students’ legal right to participate. When the principal threatened Amber with “ramifications” if she participated, Amber appealed directly to the DeSoto County School Superintendent on April 10, 12 and 13. The superintendent refused to meet with her but directed the principal to tell Amber that her request was “disapproved” because allowing students to observe Day of Silence was not allowed. The principal repeatedly told Amber that she could not participate and threatened that there “would be consequences” if she did, even calling her parents and suggesting that they keep her home from school.
On April 19, 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to the principal and superintendent outlining the legal precedent supporting Amber’s right to observe National Day of Silence and putting them on notice that interference with students’ rights could be grounds for a lawsuit. The letter was ignored. Instead, the principal sent an email to all teachers telling them to send anyone that appeared to be participating in the event to the office. When Amber arrived at school wearing a red T-shirt with the message “DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhhh” and communicating by dry-erase board with peers and teachers, she was called to the dean’s office and suspended from school for the day.
On February 26, 2013, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the DeSoto County Board of Education arguing that the high school violated the First Amendment and well-settled legal precedent supporting students’ free speech, and seeking a court order to ensure that school officials do not interfere with the rights of Amber and other DeSoto County High School students who plan to observe Day of Silence on April 19, 2013.
- April 2012 Amber Hatcher attempts to participate in National Day of Silence but is punished.
- April 2012 Lambda Legal sends a letter to DeSoto County Board of Education but it is ignored.
- February 2013 Lambda Legal files federal lawsuit against DeSoto County Board of Education.
Nancy J. Faggianelli, of Carlton Fields in Tampa, Fla.