The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 8-1 that a Pennsylvania high school was in the wrong when it kicked a cheerleader off of her team for a profane Snapchat post that she made off of school grounds, a ruling that student speech advocates will likely claim as a victory.
The court ruled that while schools do maintain some interest in regulating students’ off-campus speech, the factors in the case of the cheerleader, Brandy Levy, weighed against the school’s actions.
“[T]he school argues that it was trying to prevent disruption, if not within the classroom, then within the bounds of a school-sponsored extracurricular activity,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in an opinion that was joined by all of his colleagues but Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented.
“But we can find no evidence in the record of the sort of ‘substantial disruption’ of a school activity or a threatened harm to the rights of others that might justify the school’s action,” Breyer continued.
Then-high school sophomore Brandi Levy was given the boot from her junior-varsity cheer team after issuing an off-campus screed in which she said “F— school f— softball f— cheer f— everything,” and posted it online.
The school district and those who sided with it said that schools should be able to punish off-campus speech like Levy’s as part of their efforts to regulate cyber-bullying. But Breyer and the justices who sided with him said such off-campus speech limits must be light because “when coupled with regulations of on-campus speech,” off-campus limits “include all the speech a student utters during the full 24-hour day.”
“It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.’s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein,” Breyer said. “But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.