A controversial free speech case for a high school student with a penchant for bad language has finally been resolved.
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania school violated a cheerleader’s first amendment rights The cheerleader, Brandi Levy, was a 14-year-old freshman who flipped off the cheerleading squad and wrote several curse words on her Snapchat after she didn’t make the Varsity squad.
Although Levy was not at school at the time of the post, she was suspended for a year from cheerleading activities because of it.
Levy challenged the decision, and the court ruled 8-1 in her favor.
“While public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech, the special interests offered by the school are not sufficient to overcome B. L.’s interest in free expression in this case,” the ruling reads. “B. L.’s posts are entitled to First Amendment protection. The statements made in B. L.’s Snapchats reflect criticism of the rules of a community of which B. L. forms a part. And B. L.’s message did not involve features that would place it outside the First Amendment’s ordinary protection.”
The court pointed out that students are not always free from the school’s authority just because they are off campus.
“The special characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech do not always disappear when that speech takes place off campus,” the ruling reads. “Circumstances that may implicate a school’s regulatory interests include serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals; threats aimed at teachers or other students; the failure to follow rules concerning lessons, the writing of papers, the use of computers, or participation in other online school activities; and breaches of school security devices.
However, in this case, the court ruled the school did not have grounds to punish the student.
From the ruling:
But three features of off-campus speech often, even if not always, distinguish schools’ efforts to regulate off-campus speech. First, a school will rarely stand in loco parentis when a student speaks off campus. Second, from the student speaker’s perspective, regulations of offcampus speech, when coupled with regulations of on-campus speech, include all the speech a student utters during the full 24-hour day. That means courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech, for doing so may mean the student cannot engage in that kind of speech at all. Third, the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus, because America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. Taken together, these three features of much off-campus speech mean that the leeway the First Amendment grants to schools in light of their special characteristics is diminished.