Is the following scenario legal

Let's say that there is a student A, who sends student B in a personal email but on school campus and on school wifi. Student A's email includes derogatory description of the principle. Let's say 10 days later, there was an unrelated riot inside of a class which the school administration for some reason believes that student A has caused the riot; student A is called up to the office and the office asks him/her questions regarding the incident.

Student A denies any knowledge but the school decides to go onto his/her school issued laptop and logs onto his/her gmail account and discovers the email and expels him/her.

Does the student in this case have the right to sue the school?

Because I believe that the freedom of speech in the USA should protect him correct? Especially because the cause of this whole incident would be unrelated and furthermore, there was an unreasonable search of his personal account?

My friends and I were talking about this scenario and have arrived to different conclusions and have argued about whether the student has the right to sue.

  • 1
    "logs onto his/her Gmail account" - personal? Or school-issued? And "riot"? How do you mean? – Stackstuck Apr 4 at 7:38
  • @Stackstuck personal account? I think that would violate right to privacy right? – John Rawls Apr 5 at 6:46
  • As far as I know, which is not very far. – Stackstuck Apr 5 at 8:50

Assuming:

  1. This is a public school;
  2. The e-mail did not include true threats, language inciting violence, or otherwise unprotected speech; and
  3. The expulsion is based strictly on language criticizing the principal,

it sounds like you'd have a viable First Amendment claim on your hands.

I don't think the question of whether the riot was related to the e-mail would really be relevant to the First Amendment analysis, nor would the assertion that there was an unreasonable search of the e-mail account. Both of those factors would be probably relevant to a Fourth Amendment lawsuit, though.

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