When Brandi Levy, a freshman in a Pennsylvania high school didn’t make the school’s cheerleading softball teams, she lashed out on social media. She cursed out both teams and the school itself on the social media app Snapchat. When screen grabs of her comments made their way to school administration, they suspended her from the cheer team. In response, her parents filed suit against the school citing a violation of First Amendment rights under Tinker v Des Moines.
The Supreme Court will hear argument in Levy’s case on April 28th after the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the district’s claims that they can regulate a student’s speech outside of school.
When the Court judged Tinker, they said that “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” They furthered that an adolescent’s status as a student does not prevent them from speaking their mind. However, this doesn’t mean that students can say whatever they want. Students cannot threaten teachers or participate in speech that disrupts the flow of the classroom. That being said, this is not the case presented before the Court currently.
In Levy’s case, she expressed displeasure with the school, but did so off campus at a convenience store. The 3rd Circuit points out that the school can’t regulate speech for students at home any more than they could “citizens of the community at large.” It is far from the purview of the school as it would not “materially and substantially” interfere with the running of the school as prescribed in Tinker. They also go on to say that even speech that makes people uncomfortable is still protected, further underlining Levy’s point that even if her speech was crude or blunt, it would still be protected.
By allowing schools to regulate speech off of school grounds, students will not be able to express opinions about their schools. Levy was emotionally expressing her displeasure with her own school, as is her right. It is the same as if her mother had emotionally expressed displeasure with her local government. They are private expressions of her opinion for which she cannot be punished. As the 3rd Circuit proposes, “A student’s online speech is not rendered ‘on campus’ simply because it involves the school, mentions teachers or administrators, is shared with or accessible to students, or reaches the school environment.”
If a case of speaking out against the school in frustration could be deemed a disruption of school activities, then certainly any dissent against the school could be seen that way as well. This is a slippery slope that will lead to the dissolution of students’ rights specifically outlined in Tinker. A person’s status as a student should not restrict their right to express their private opinion on any matter outside of school grounds, and the Court should rule in favor of Levy.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.