Before Christmas I was tipped to some litigation filed in Hancock County involving Bay High Principal Amy Coyne that was of mild interest as it involves the intersection of free speech, social media and the tort of defamation.
To back things up there was Statewide Cheerleader competition in Jackson and the Bay Cheerleader squad wanted to participate. Due to Covid pandemic the School Board denied the Cheerleaders’ request for authorization for overnight travel to the event. According to the social media posts certain of the cheerleaders, on their parent’s dime, went to Jackson overnight to stay the day before the competition anyway. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs would later be quoted as saying the cheerleader event was a Covid super spreader event. BWSD’s Facebook page takes it from there:
A decision has been made that will affect your student’s schedule. Due to an increasing number of students that have to be quarantined, we are going to dismiss for Christmas holidays early.Bay Waveland School District’s Facebook Page
Tomorrow – Tuesday, Dec. 15 will be a regular school day. Wednesday, Dec. 16 we will dismiss at the following times:
BHS @ 12:05 pm
BWMS @ 12:25pm
NBE/WES @ 11:35am
These will not be distance learning days and we will have to make up the days. Our calendar will be adjusted at a later date.
A number of these quarantines are completely avoidable. I would urge you to exhibit healthy behaviors over the holiday so that we can have a safe return in January and not have to extend the school year any further.
Specifically, please wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands frequently. Please avoid crowds and large numbers of people.
I realize this is difficult but we all want to be able to return to school on Monday, January 4 in a safe way.
According to social media posts, Principal Coyne went to Jackson to the Cheerleader competition with the group of parents that stayed overnight. After the event she busted a student’s chops for having a sleep-over, which given how the cheer competition turned out struck the student’s parents as a ‘pot meet kettle’ situation and a social media brawl was born. Seemingly, not one to miss a chance to escalate things, Principal Coyne turned to her brother, local Attorney Gary Yarborough for assistance and the following was filed in County Court in very short order.
In today’s day and age these actions are not uncommon but it takes a bit more to get a Court’s permission to allow someone to read another’s emails and private messages in anticipation of a defamation suit and the more is missing in the complaint other than a general statement the statements made were false.
The problem for what’s missing is the cheerleader trip came up at a school board meeting, which means it is inherently a matter of public interest and in that context Ms. Coyne is likely a “vortex public figure” when it comes to speech surrounding her official acts in regards to it, especially those that had previously been before the school board. That means the legal concept of malice applies. In this context, malice is writings or utterances made “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Its a very high legal bar.
My understanding is that Ms. Campbell has hired counsel so a fashionable fight it will be. Just a thought, but my lifetime of experiences dealing with school administrators indicates most prefer to keep such squabbles in house and resolve them before they make the paper or grace the Courthouse steps. That wouldn’t be the case in this dust up.
County Court Judge Trent Favre has got a case with subject matter he normally wouldn’t see much. I would imagine there will be further briefings required, possibly even a hearing. Slabbed will be keeping an eye on the docket in case something interesting materializes.