High school principal sues over suspension after controversial comments to students about Capitol riot, free speech

Cordova High principal place on leave
Cordova High principal place on leave
Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 3:07 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A principal at Tennessee’s largest school district is suing over his suspension following comments to students about fallout from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Barton Thorne is principal of Cordova High School. He filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Shelby County Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray.

According to the lawsuit, Thorne says SCS violated his first and 14th amendment rights.

Thorne was placed on administrative leave in mid-January after speaking to students and staff about freedom of speech with regard to major social media platforms removing or blocking posts from then-President Donald Trump and some of his supporters.

Thorne drew comparisons to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas as an example of a group being singled out for their beliefs.

According to the lawsuit, Thorne’s remarks were in his “principal’s message” that’s part of a weekly announcements video. The suit claims he saw it as a teachable moment about “Free Speech and the dangers of cancel culture.” His message touched on “the importance of Free Speech in a democratic society,” the lawsuit says, and was “in line with Tennessee’s standards for teaching social studies to high school students and in line with generally accepted civics curriculum.”

Thorne’s suit says the message was even in line with resources the superintendent recommended for teaching students about the Capitol riot and its aftermath.

After sharing his message, the lawsuit says the principal was the subject of a professional misconduct complaint and internal disciplinary investigation. He was then placed on paid administrative leave where he has “languished for six weeks without any closure to his case,” the filing says.

Thorne’s suit alleges SCS officials told him to remain silent while the district criticized him in the media.

In addition to allegations of first and 14th amendment violations, the lawsuit claims the SCS is in breach of Thorne’s employment contract.

He also claims the district inflicted intentional and negligent emotional distress and caused significant damage to his reputation.

Thorne is asking for unspecified damages.

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