The mother of a Liberty High School Senior went to federal court on Thursday and successfully argued for a court order forcing the school district to allow her son to take part in commencement ceremonies that same night.

U.S. District Court Judge Benita Pearson issued an emergency temporary restraining order on behalf of a 17-year-old student named in the civil complaint only as “P.H.” to protect the juvenile’s identity.

According to the lawsuit, the teen was suspended from school and school activities after the teen posted the following Snapchat message on April 30 while chatting with another student which school officials determined was threatening in nature:

“Bro I’ll kill you I’ll do what I did to the teachers to your family.”


 School administrators claim that the message was referring to physical assaults the teen made against several district staff on school grounds during the 2018-2019 school year involving the high school principal and another school staff member. School officials say the incident resulted in one staff member requiring medical treatment.

His mother, an attorney representing her son in the case and identified only as “C.H.”, argued that the text was just “trash talk” made in a joking manner, the senior was suspended for ten school days from May 13 through May 27, prohibiting him from taking part in the senior prom, the senior trip to Cedar Point, the senior breakfast, as well as graduation commencement practice and ceremony.

The mom’s complaint says the message was not posted during school hours or on school property and was not threatening in nature. She alleges that school officials are violating the teen's constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

In their response, the school district countered by stating that a student has no constitutional right to take part in graduation ceremonies.  His suspension will not be included on the teen’s final transcript and he was given an extension to complete his assignments.

Additionally, school officials say threats targeting students or staff are not protected by the Constitution, whether or not they are made on school grounds.

School officials told the court that ordering them to allow P.H. to attend commencement may affect the comfort of other graduates, “particularly the ones affected by his threats.”

In rendering her opinion, Pearson acknowledged that the Snap text was not made as part of a school event.  Noting that federal courts here have not ruled on off-campus speech, the judge expressed the opinion that P.H. and his mother may eventually prevail when the case is fully heard.

In granting the restraining order, Judge Pearson found that school officials produced no evidence that there still exists a true threat, nor that the teen taking part in commencement would harm others.

Judge Pearson commented that P.H. is a minor, but not a child, and can't offer excuses in the future for poor decisions. She cautioned P.H. that any actions that she deems in contempt of the court by him would be dealt with "swiftly and harshly".

When Pearson asked the teen to verbally acknowledge her order he replied, "Yes your honor".

Another hearing will be scheduled to consider the case with also seeks to expunge the teen's school records, and also seeks unspecified damages and legal costs.

Liberty's commencement ceremonies are scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Stambaugh Auditorium in Youngstown.