ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County School Board voted Tuesday to approve a $35,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought against the school district by Dia'Mon Dallas, a former First Coast Technical College student who sued the school after she was suspended for a social media post.
According to the complaint filed in May in the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Dallas was suspended from the St. Augustine school after she appeared in a Facebook photo holding a handgun.
After the photo of Dallas was reported to administrators by a student, the school said the photo would cause a "material and substantial disruption at school" and suspended Dallas indefinitely in April, according to the lawsuit.
During the suspension meeting, the assistant principal of the school accused Dallas of having a "mean look" on her face, possessing "illegal guns" and said "things you do in the dark come to the light," the lawsuit states.
Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach lawyer and firearms law expert representing Dallas, argued that by suspending Dallas the school exceeded its authority and violated her constitutional rights under the First Amendment.
"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 states. "Under no circumstances could the picture reasonably be construed as threatening, violent, or otherwise posing any risk to the school community."
Dallas said the photo, which also featured her fiancée holding a gun, was taken at a gun range in her hometown of Palatka and the guns were lawfully possessed. The school suspension prevented her from graduating and advancing her career, she said.
Dallas was not available for comment Friday, but Byrd issued a statement on her behalf.
"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 pay out $35,000 to settle the lawsuit, including $20,000 to Dallas and $15,000 in legal fees.
The school district declined further comment.