Published: Wed, June 23, 2021
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Supreme Court sides with HS cheerleader suspended over profanity-laced Snapchat

Supreme Court sides with HS cheerleader suspended over profanity-laced Snapchat

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, which also found that the school, Mahoney Area High School, violated Brandi Levy's First Amendment rights.

"Putting aside the vulgar language, the listener would hear criticism, of the team, the team's coaches, and the school - in a word or two, criticism of the rules of a community of which B.L. forms a part", Justice Breyer wrote. "We do not believe that thespecial characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech always disappear when a school regulates speech that takes place off campus".

Though the matter itself appears rather inconsequential, the court's ruling could prove influential in an age where social media has blurred the lines between on-campus and off-campus speech. After the school district appealed, the Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the 1969 precedent does not apply to off-campus speech and that school officials may not regulate such speech. L.'s posts encompassed a message, an expression of B.

"The justices have made the right call, recognizing how a judgment for the school district would undoubtedly open the floodgates for school authorities to mete out discipline to students for all manner of off-campus speech", said Jonathan Friedman, director at PEN America, a free expression advocacy group.

Justice Clarence Thomas issueed a dissent arguing that the majority did not look closely enough at the precedents about how schools may punish students for speech that happens outside of school but could affect what happens inside of the schoolhouse gates.

Justice Samuel Alito added in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch that "while the decision to enroll a student in a public school may be regarded as conferring the authority to regulate some off-premises speech - enrollment can not be treated as a complete transfer of parental authority over a student's speech".


The Supreme Court has sided with a high school cheerleader from Pennsylvania who was suspended after posting a profanity-laced message on Snapchat while away from school grounds.

"It might be tempting to dismiss B.L.'s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein", the Court opinion said. "But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary". Back then, in a case involving students suspended for wearing black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War, the court ruled that students do have free speech rights under the Constitution, as long as the speech is not disruptive to the school. "Because the board's April 2018 resolution purports to authorize certain school employees to go armed while on duty without also requiring that those employees satisfy the training-or-experience requirement (violates state law)". What authority does a school have when it operates in loco parentis?

Due to an increase in computer-based learning, the justices said they will not detail a list of what counts as "off-campus" speech protected by the First Amendment. And how does a court decide if speech is on or off campus?

Instead, the majority highlighted features of speech that would decrease a school's interest in regulating it.

"If there is a good constitutional reason to depart from this historical rule, the majority and the parties fail to identify it".

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