SCOTUS appears ready to uphold students’ free-speech rights outside the schoolhouse gate

By: | April 29, 2021

The future of students’ First Amendment rights is on the line after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case about a profane Snapchat post that could define schools’ authority to regulate off-campus speech — an issue that’s taken on particular relevance in the social media era.

Justices lobbed tough questions at attorneys representing both parties during the two-hour hearing, but seemed prepared to support students’ ability to express themselves off campus without government interference while also grappling with the reality that students’ off-campus speech — namely social media posts — can easily penetrate the schoolhouse gate and disrupt the learning environment. Several justices also signaled the possibility for a narrow ruling that would steer clear of setting new precedent.

The case, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L, centers around a Pennsylvania high school student’s 2017 Snapchat post expressing frustration because she didn’t make the varsity cheerleading squad. The student, Brandi Levy, posted a selfie of herself on a weekend in which she displayed her middle finger and included a profane caption: “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” Though the post was uploaded away from school, her message made its way back to campus where the student, then 14 years old, was suspended from participating on the junior varsity team for a year.

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