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SCOTUS Rules School Violated Cheerleader’s Rights With Suspension Over Snapchat Post

Brandi Levy, a former cheerleader at Mahanoy Area High School in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania and a key figure in a major U.S. case about free speech, uses her phone in an undated photograph provided by the American Civil Liberties Union. (Danna Singer/Handout via REUTERS)

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with students on Wednesday, ruling that a former cheerleader’s online F-bombs about her school is protected speech under the First Amendment.

The 8-1 ruling broadened First Amendment protections in an era when school children are in nearly constant contact with one another through social media and text messages.

“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 wrote.

Brandi Levy in her Mohanoy High School cheerleading uniform after she allowed on the team in 2017, following the Snapchat post. Photo Credit: Brandi Levy Facebook

So are schools forbidden from regulating off-campus student speech?

Absolutely not. The decision did not protect all off-campus expression, but the court suggested that the exceptions, to be worked out in future cases, would be limited. The Supreme Court ruled that “courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech” but it provided numerous examples of reasonable restrictions of such speech:

— Serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals; 

—threats aimed at teachers or other students; 

—the failure to follow rules concerning lessons, the writing of papers, the use of computers, or participation in other online school activities; 

—and breaches of school security devices.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented and said he would have supported the school’s suspension of Levy. She is now 18 and finished her freshman year of college.

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