Ryan Sawyers is back in court with another lawsuit.
This time, the former Prince William County School Board chair is suing the School Board as well as Patriot High School Principal Michael Bishop for blocking him on Twitter.
Filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Sawyers’ suit claims that the board and Bishop, by ultimately being responsible for the Patriot High School Twitter account @PioneersPHS, violated his First Amendment rights. In his suit, Sawyers asks the court to demand his unblocking and to award him punitive damages against Bishop “for his wanton and abusive conduct.”
School division representatives told InsideNoVa that Bishop had no comment on the matter.
This is not Sawyers’ first time taking on former school system employees in court over Twitter. The former board chair also sued former Superintendent Steven Walts in Prince William Circuit Court, claiming that Walts defamed him in a video posted to Twitter. In that video, Walts said Sawyers was trying to “bully and attack PWCS students online” because Sawyers sought access to 20,000 private Twitter messages between Walts and students through the Freedom of Information Act. In April, a judge ruled that the defamation case could move forward to trial.
Now, in his new lawsuit, Sawyers claims that Bishop and Patriot High school use the high school’s Twitter account, which now goes by a different handle, as a governance tool, and that as such they are violating Sawyers’ First Amendment rights by blocking his Twitter account from seeing their content.
But the history between the two sides goes back farther than May, when Sawyers discovered that he was blocked on Twitter. According to the lawsuit, Bishop was investigated for misconduct during Sawyers’ tenure as School Board chair (Sawyers won election as the at-large chair in 2015 and took the post in 2016 before resigning in the midst of a recall effort in 2018). Bishop eventually sued Sawyers for defamation, but that suit was dismissed and withdrawn in 2019.
Sawyers now claims that while conducting discovery for that suit, he discovered a litany of misconduct committed by Bishop as Patriot’s principal. Bishop’s personal animosity toward Sawyers, the lawsuit claims, led to him being blocked on Twitter.
“Sawyers is a resident and citizen of Prince William County, Virginia. He has routinely criticized corruption, misconduct, and suppression of watchdog voices in Prince William County, especially by Prince William County School administrators, elected officials, and executives,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants’ blocking of Sawyers on the Twitter account was an infringement of Sawyers’ First Amendment rights.”
The suit was filed June 11, and thus far neither Bishop nor the court has taken any action on it. Sawyers and his attorneys did not respond to InsideNoVa’s interview request.