The Supreme Court has long recognized that public school students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The District of Columbia recognized the same when it promulgated the D.C. Student Bill of Rights, which provides that “[e]ach student shall have the right to exercise his or her constitutional rights of free speech, assembly, and expression without prior restraint, so long as the exercise of these rights does not substantially interfere with the rights of others.” Yet Jackson-Reed High School refuses to allow the exercise of these rights by its Arab Student Union.

The Arab Student Union is a recognized student club at Jackson-Reed High School, a public high school in the District of Columbia that is one of the most diverse high schools in the country. For the past four months, the club and its members have been trying to engage in expressive activities at the school—showing a documentary film, putting up posters, distributing literature, presenting a cultural program—but have been stopped at every turn by the school administration. Specifically, the school has denied the club permission to hold voluntary lunchtime meetings to screen a film critical of the Israeli government, and the school has refused even to consider alternative films proposed by the club. The school has censored handouts the club sought to distribute and prohibited them from distributing certain materials entirely. And the school has prevented them from holding a cultural event and then heavily curtailed what they could say at such an event.

The Arab Student Union’s activities would not be disruptive; they are the same kinds of activities in which other student clubs engage. Their speech has been suppressed because the school does not want their viewpoint—which concerns the ongoing war in Gaza and its effects on the Palestinian people—to be heard.

Representing the club, we sued D.C. and the principal of the school for violating the Arab Student Union’s (and its members’) First Amendment rights and their rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the D.C. Student Bill of Rights. We seek a court order that the students be allowed to show their film before the end of the school year and more generally to be permitted to express their views with their fellow students like any other student club at the school.

A hearing on our motion for a preliminary injunction was scheduled for May 10, 2024. But on May 7, with the court’s strong encouragement, we began conversations with the defendants to see if we could reach an agreement about what the Arab Student Union could do during the remaining weeks of the spring semester. We eventually reached an agreement that allows the club to show one of the movies it had requested and to distribute its printed material, including one of the pages that had been censored. Principal Brown also agreed to send an email to all faculty and administrators reiterating that the standards for expressive activities apply equally to all student groups. The lawsuit will continue, so that we can clearly establish the right of the ASU and all student groups to exercise their First Amendment rights in D.C. Public Schools.

Date filed

April 24, 2024


U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia