NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – A high school student is suing his central Florida school district after his parking pass was revoked when he refused to remove a large elephant statue painted to promote President Donald Trump from the bed of his pickup truck.
Tyler Maxwell, 18, told Fox 35 in Orlando that his grandfather gave him the elephant, which he bought from an old car dealership before the 2016 presidential election. He helped his father paint it as a red, white and blue Trump display four years ago.
Now that he's old enough to drive, and vote, Maxwell said he put the elephant in his truck and parked it in the student lot at Spruce Creek High School on Sept. 14.
“I’ve been pretty excited for the last four years to be able to vote,” Maxwell said.
Some 20 minutes into his first class, Maxwell said he was summoned to the principal's office.
“I was told to I had to go ahead and take it off campus,” Maxwell said.
He told the television station that his father then drove to the school and asked for a reason in writing why his son could not leave the Trump elephant in his truck. He didn't get an answer in writing, so the son returned with the elephant to school the next day.
“Tuesday morning, my parking pass was taken away,” Tyler said.
He then left school and switched to distance learning. His family hired an attorney who filed a federal lawsuit, accusing the school district of violating his freedom of speech.
“It’s a freedom of speech case. The question is should a student have to give up his free speech right when he drives onto school property. The answer to that is no and the school just needs to realize that,” said Tyler’s attorney, Jacob Heubert.
Volusia County Public Schools said in a statement that the school board has an obligation to provide neutral campuses.
“We allow political expression by students in the form of a T-shirt or a bumpersticker," the statement said. “But large signage is a different situation. A passerby could interpret a large sign in a school parking lot to be an endorsement by the school district … We don’t allow our parking lots to be used for political statements.”