Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

Supreme Court Rules For Cheerleader In Free Speech Case

Supreme Court rules school wrong to punish cheerleader for profane Snapchat rant in 8-1 free speech decision Supreme Court sides with high school cheerleader in free-speech dispute over profane Snapchat rant
Deanna Wagner | 23 June, 2021, 21:57

At issue in the case was a series of F-bombs issued on Snapchat by Brandi Levy, then a 14-year-old high school cheerleader, who failed to win a promotion from the junior varsity to the varsity cheerleading term.

The Supreme Court ruled today that a high school in Pennsylvania violated a student's First Amendment rights by suspending her from the cheerleading team, following Snapchat posts where she criticized the school with expletives.

When school officials learned of the outburst, Levy was suspended from the JV team for having violated school rules.

Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas School of Law tells CNN that "the line between the off-campus speech that schools can and can't regulate is less than clear" but "the fact that there is a line will have significant ramifications for just about all public school administrators".

Justice Clarence Thomas, the only dissenter of the majority opinion, argued the ruling does not accurately reflect historical rulings from similar cases and is too vague for schools to interpret.

The case arose from Levy's posts, one of which pictured her and a friend with raised middle fingers and included repeated use of a vulgarity to complain that she had been left off the varsity cheerleading squad. Breyer further argued the school itself has an interest in protecting student free speech, even if that speech is unpopular or frowned upon by the administration.

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The court, in a famous 1969 decision, said that students don't surrender their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate, but that educators can limit speech on school property when it's materially disruptive. President Joe Biden's administration supported the district in the case, arguing that off-campus student speech deserves broad protection unless it threatens the school community or targets specific individuals, groups or school functions. Now 18, Levy recently finished her first year of college.

In the ruling, the court held that in this instance, the school was not permitted to act upon the student's off-campus speech.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that he would have ruled for Levy on narrower grounds.

"But", he said, "we have also made clear that courts must apply the First Amendment in light of the special characteristics of the school environment". "But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary".

Breyer cited cyberbullying, threats to teachers or students and online cheating as examples of when schools may be able to crack down.