On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, the St. Johns County School Board voted in favor of a $35,000 settlement in a lawsuit that a former student filed against the school district according to a News4Jax report.
Dia’Mon Dallas, a former First Coast Technical College student, was originally suspended from the St. Augustine school after being discovered in a Facebook photo holding a handgun.
A student reported the photo of Dallas to administrators, which the school believed would cause a “material and substantial disruption at school” and suspended Dallas indefinitely in April, according to the lawsuit filed.
The lawsuit stated that during the suspension meeting the assistant principal of the school accused Dallas of having a “mean look” on her face, having “illegal guns” and said “things you do in the dark come to the light.”
Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach lawyer and a firearms law expert acting as Dallas’ legal counsel, argued that Dallas’s suspension was an abuse of the school’s authority and a clear violation of her First Amendment rights.
“Students have a constitutional right to engage in expressive activities off school grounds during their personal time without being subject to discipline by public school administrators,” the lawsuit declared. “Under no circumstances could the picture reasonably be construed as threatening, violent, or otherwise posing any risk to the school community.”
Dallas claimed that the photo was taken at a gun range in her hometown of Palatka. Her fiancée was also pictured holding a gun and she claimed that the guns were legally owned. She argued that the school suspension prevented her from graduating and advancing her career.
Byrd issued a statement on behalf of Dallas.
“Ms. Dallas looks forward to continuing her education,” Byrd told News4Jax. “It was important for her to defend her freedom of expression and speech and she did that. The First Amendment protects not just what society deems popular, but more importantly, that which some in society may deem unpopular.”
The St. Johns County School District agreed to a $35,000 settlement, which included $20,000 to Dallas and $15,000 in legal fees.