Student Speech in the Digital Age


Last week the Supreme Court heard a case about Brandi Levy, a cheerleader at Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy Area High School. On a Saturday in May 2017, she posted on her snapchat story saying, “f— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything,” posted along with a photo of her upraised middle finger, expecting the post to be gone by the time everyone returned to school. She would then go on to make another post saying, “ Love how me and (another student) get told we need a year of JV before we can make Varsity but that doesn’t apply to anyone else?”  Enough people had already seen the post that it caused an outburst, and it resulted in her being banned from the cheerleading team for year.

Over the next few years the case wound its way through the court system before arriving at the Supreme Court, where the case will determine how the First Amendment’s freedom of speech applies to things said off campus. This is one of the biggest cases involving freedom of speech since 1969 ruling in Tinker vs. Des Moines, where students wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

Justice Clarence Thomas told David Cole, national legal director of ACLU, who argued on Levy’s behalf that, “I don’t know how you locate the conduct in school versus out of school when you have social media.” Cole told officials that “allowing officials to regulate students’ speech off-campus effectively means they will be carrying the schoolhouse with them wherever they go.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Brett Kavanaugh suggest that the punishment leveled at Levy did not fit her offense, stating that students frequently vent their frustrations about school to their friends on social media and use foul language at times. A decision is expected to be made by the justices in the summer, and the ruling could change the face of student speech as we know it.

Categories: News

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