The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former Pennsylvania High School cheerleader who was suspended from school for a profanity filled rant she posted to social media when she was off school grounds.
The case has been closely watched throughout the country due to its potential impacts on Free Speech rights for high school students.
The majority opinion penned by Justice Stephen Breyer with the Court voting 8-1 in favor of the plaintiff with Justice Clarence Thomas being the lone dissenter.
It might be tempting to dismiss (the student’s) words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary,” Breyer offered.
The court has made clear that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression even ‘at the school house gate,'” said the Justice in his majority opinion.
In a post to the social media app, Brandi Levy, then 14 wrote in 2017 “F–k school f–k softball f–k cheer f–k everything.” The Mahanoy Area High School student in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania was reacting to the fact that she had failed to get a slot on the varsity cheerleading squad at the school.
Levy at the time was a member of the junior varsity team at the time and when school officials became aware of her profanity filled tirade, they suspended her for violating school rules.
Lawyers for the school district had argued that where the speech occurred was not the true issue, but the disruption it causes
Off campus speech can be disruptive, lawyers for the school district argued.
Off-campus speech, particularly on social media can be disruptive,” lawyers for the district said during oral arguments last , because of the internet’s “ubiquity, instantaneous and mass dissemination.”
Bryer said if the court were to allow the school to regulate off-campus speech, “… my goodness, every school in the country would be doing nothing but punishing.”
Levy had the support of Mary Beth and John Tinker who won a landmark school speech case in 1969 that allowed them to wear a black armband on campus to protest the Vietnam War.
The Court’s majority ruled that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Court took the position that school officials could not prohibit only on the suspicion that the speech might disrupt the learning environment.
You can find the entire SCOTUS decision here