Tyler Maxwell, 18, placed an American-flag-colored elephant figurine in the flat bed of his truck to showcase his support for President Donald Trump. Soon after he parked the truck at Spruce Creek High School’s student parking lot, however, a school official called Maxwell out of class and took him to meet with an assistant principal, who told him that he had to remove the elephant or lose his parking permit.
Maxwell told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that when he returned the next day with the “TRUMP” elephant on the bed of his truck, the principal barred him from parking on school grounds.
“I felt like my First Amendment rights for expressing how I felt about the president were being suppressed, and I wasn’t going to just sit there and let them tell me I can’t express myself,” Maxwell said.
In a federal complaint (pdf) filed last month on behalf of Maxwell, Jacob Huebert, a senior attorney for conservative think tank the Goldwater Institute, argued that Volusia County School District has “no justification” for banning the teenager’s political expression from the school parking lot.
Maxwell’s elephant did not cause “any disruption to any school activities” except for the disruption to his own education caused by the reaction of school officials, Huebert wrote, adding that Spruce Creek High apparently allows bumper stickers supporting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and apparel supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
In an email to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, district spokeswoman Cindi Lane said Maxwell’s elephant is so prominently displayed that people could interpret it as an endorsement for Trump by the school district, which is obliged to remain politically neutral.
“We allow political expression by students in the form of a T-shirt or bumper sticker. But large signage is a different situation,” Lane wrote. “A passerby could interpret a large sign in a school parking lot to be an endorsement by the school district.”
District Judge Roy B. Dalton Jr., an Obama appointee, issued a temporary restraining order that would allow Maxwell to park his truck on campus with the elephant while his case proceeds in the District Court. The order will remain effective until Nov. 6, when there will be a hearing.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled in favor of a Louisiana teenager whose parking space mural of Trump was painted over by his high school for being “too political.”
Ned Thomas, a senior at Pine Junior-Senior High School, participated in August in the school’s program that allows seniors to pay $25 to paint an assigned parking spot the way they like it. Thomas proposed to paint a portrait of the president wearing a stars-and-stripes bandana and sunglasses, which was approved by the school’s principal.
After Thomas completed his parking space mural, however, Washington Parish School System officials decided that the image was “too political” and promptly covered it with gray paint.
In an Oct. 9 ruling (pdf), U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon ordered the school district to allow Thomas to restore the mural, saying that the school’s decision to paint over the Trump portrait violated the teenager’s First Amendment rights.