The Lion

Student Sues School District after Suspension for Using Term ‘Illegal Alien’

May 10, 2024

(The Lion)—A 10th-grade student’s family has filed a lawsuit against a North Carolina school district after it suspended him for using the term “illegal alien” in class.

The student, 16-year-old Christian McGhee, had raised his hand in class to ask whether the term “alien” being used by the teacher referred to “space aliens or illegal aliens who need green cards,” according to The Liberty Justice Center (LJC), which is representing his family in the case against the Davidson County Board of Education.

Christian’s innocuous comment was followed by a joking threat against him from a fellow student and friend who is of Latino descent.

Dean McGee, education freedom attorney with LJC, says it is critical to understand that the relationship between the two boys was friendly; McGhee’s classmate did not claim to be offended by the incident at all.

In an interview on the Todd Starnes Show, LJC’s McGee explained that Christian’s mother, who met with school administration on the day of the incident, said, “It’s my understanding no one was actually offended by this, that my boy is friendly with this other young man in class, but why don’t we all meet? Bring me in, my son, the teacher, this boy, his family, and we’ll all meet and just make sure there were no misunderstandings about anyone’s feelings.”

However, the Davidson County School District (DCSD) ultimately elected to suspend Christian for three days based on his utterance of “illegal alien.”

“Even though Christian asked a factual, non-threatening question – about a word the class was discussing – the school board branded him with false accusations of racism,” said Buck Dougherty, senior counsel with LJC.

“The school has not only violated his constitutional right to free speech, but also his right to due process and his right to access education, a guaranteed right under North Carolina law.”

The lawsuit argues “the school board had no legal justification to suspend Christian because his comment was protected speech under the First Amendment.” The lawsuit seeks to remove the suspension from Christian’s academic record, as his family fears that leaving it would create serious implications for Christian’s college applications.

From LJC’s perspective, DCSD is not doing itself any favors by making an example of Christian.

“The administration is so focused on punishing this boy, I think they’re going to destroy their own reputation of their own school, just by refusing to admit they made a mistake and doubling down on this punishment,” McGee summarized.

Christian’s legal team notes he was not able to return to school peacefully following his suspension due to the school administration’s defamation of his character. Christian withdrew from Central Davidson High School to finish the semester through homeschooling.