Supreme Court To Review Case That Involves Public School And Student Free Speech

Cheerleader made profane comments on Snapchat, resulting in suspension

The U.S. Supreme Court is where the B.L. vs. Mahanoy court case will be reviewed on April 28.

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The U.S. Supreme Court is where the B.L. vs. Mahanoy court case will be reviewed on April 28.

Kyndall Stubblefield, Reporter

Have you ever wondered what rights you have when you walk into school? What about when you leave school? The past Tinker vs. Des. Moines (1969) case established that students’ speech rights should be protected and that “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates.” But there has never been a case over the rights of students on social media until now.

A sophomore at Mahanoy Area High School (Mahanoy, Penn.), tried out for the varsity cheerleading team. She ended up making only the junior varsity team. Over the following weekend in May of 2017, off-campus, she posted a picture on Snapchat with the caption, “f* school f* softball f* cheer f* everything”. This picture and caption were available to about 250 people, most of which were students at MAHS. Several of the cheerleading teammates expressed their concerns about the post to the coach, resulting in B.L.’s suspension from the team for the year. 

B.L. sued the school for three reasons. 1) Her suspension violated the First Amendment; 2) the rules set by the school and team were viewpoint discriminatory, and 3) the rules that she broke were unconstitutionally vague. The district court ruled in B.L.’s favor on the evidence that the school had violated her First Amendment rights.

This case brings up a couple of questions. Does the First Amendment prohibit schools from regulating off-campus speech? Should public schools be able to control the way students speak outside of school? Was the high school in the wrong? 

So far, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and a federal appeals court have ruled in favor of B.L. On April 28, the case of B.L. vs Mahanoy will be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court with a decision expected by the end of the court’s term in June.

“I think it is very important for the Supreme Court to set some guidance, not only for school administrators but also for kids,” said Witold J. Walczak, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who represents Levy.