Florida student J.P. Krause was disqualified after being elected class president at Vero Beach High School in Florida. The reason? After giving an impromptu speech during a history class before the April election, Krause was given a detention by the school principal who accused him of harassing an opponent in a pre-election speech.
On Sunday, the high school junior told ”Fox & Friends" that the disqualification and punishment were “completely outrageous.” In a 90-minute speech, Krause accused a fellow candidate of representing a rival school. Echoing a similar proposal made by President Donald Trump to control illegal immigration along America’s southern border, Krause suggested that “we build a wall” between the two schools but make the other school pay for it. Young Krause also accused the rival of offering "Communist ideas." A fellow student recorded the speech and posted it online.
Vero High Principal Shawn O’Keefe reacted to the video and issued a statement: “Speeches must focus on reality and pertinent issues. The insulting language in this speech was of a nature that created a situation of public humiliation and therefore violated school district rules pertaining to harassment.” Krause denied harassing any person.
On Fox & Friends, Krause said, “I never thought the speech would ever evolve in what it has become, really.” He added, “It was completely a joke from the beginning and completely satirical.” When he was asked if his troubles started because his speech resembled Trump’s proposals, Krause shrugged and said, “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you, but it’s there.”
In an interview with WPTV, Krause’s mother -- Angela -- stated that the situation could have been handled better. “I don’t think there was anything wrong,” she said. “He was being silly. He’s 17.” The Pacific Legal Foundation of California, a pro-bono law team, is now providing legal counsel for free. PLF sent a letter to the school district arguing that the disqualification violated JP’s constitutional rights. PLF lawyers requested that Krause be declared class president.
In a blog post at the PLF website, attorney Mark Miller wrote:
"And now a student—J.P. Krause, a top student, rising senior, our client, and the young man who should serve as VBHS senior class president in the coming school year—understands better why the Constitution requires public institutions, like his school, to respect the constitutional rights of its students. Because here the school punished J.P. for a humorous campaign speech he made; it disqualified him from the election only after he won the election. Quite the unconstitutional daily double pulled off by the school administrators—they not only unconstitutionally deemed the third place candidate the winner, but took away the voting privileges of its entire senior body class, who elected J.P. President."
In an emailed response to Spero News, Miller wrote:
"The Supreme Court has emphasized that the First Amendment protects speech that might offend others. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503, 512 (1969), the High Court recognized "neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." To be sure, if a student gives a speech that is lewd, vulgar, or profane, then a school can sanction him. But that's not what happened here. He gave an impromptu campaign speech that the First Amendment protects, and the school must reinstate him to the presidency he rightfully won via student vote."
In its letter to the school district, PLF wrote:
"The school’s harassment policy—like the one at issue here—had no threshold requirement of pervasiveness or severity, and therefore it could cover any speech about someone the content of which could offend someone. This could bar “core” political and religious speech (like J.P.’s political speech here). Provided such speech does not pose a realistic threat of substantial disruption, the Third Circuit held, it is within a student’s First Amendment rights.
"Likewise here, J.P.’s speech has been targeted by the school district’s harassment policy, a policy that is similarly overbroad and unconstitutional. J.P. did not create a substantial disruption—to the contrary, the video of the incident reflects that the ‘speech’ allowed for 90 seconds of lighthearted fun, and clever political satire, in a high-level academic class."