It turns out that if you crack an internet joke about making out with your high school teacher, you might be able to get the school to pay part of your college tuition.
Okay, that’s not at all the lesson of the Reid Sagehorn saga, which saw a two-word tweet spark a First Amendment debate and forced him to change schools. But last week the former Rogers High School student reached a settlement with the school district that suspended him in 2014 over the online wisecrack. The since-graduated Sagehorn (and mostly his attorneys) are due a combined $425,000 from the district and the city, which should at least cover some overpriced textbooks.
“He’s certainly looking forward to putting this case behind him and becoming a normal, typical college student,” says Paul Dworak, Sagehorn’s attorney.
In January 2014, someone posting from Rogers Confessions, an anonymous Twitter account, asked, “Did [Sagehorn] actually make out with” a 28-year-old teacher? Sagehorn replied, “Actually yes.”
School officials initially suspended Sagehorn for five days over the comment, but then bumped up his punishment to nearly two months. Sagehorn, then an honor student in the home stretch of his senior year, wound up finishing at another school.
Sagehorn, now 19, sued the school district, claiming the quip was protected under the First Amendment. He also claimed Rogers Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen defamed him by telling the media he “could face felony charges” and comparing the tongue-in-teacher’s-cheek joke to “crying or yelling ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater or saying ‘I got a bomb!’ on a plane.”
The settlement comes after an August ruling against the district and the city’s motion to have the case thrown out. Judge John Tunheim ruled that the tweet was not as obscene as the school alleged and that Sagehorn had a reasonable defamation case against Beahen. Rather than continuing toward trial, the district agreed to pay $325,000, with the city coughing up another $100,000.
“The writing was on the wall,” Dworak says.
However, the Elk River School Board maintains it wasn’t a “slam dunk case for either side.” In a statement, the board wrote that settling was a financial decision, stemming off mounting litigation costs. The district’s insurance company will pick up its share of the tab. The district maintains that it handled the Sagehorn saga appropriately.