If your child is not in school and says something rude online, can they be punished at school over it? Does the writ of a school district extend into a student’s private life? That is a case the Supreme Court is dealing with. Oral arguments took place on Wednesday. The ACLU gets this one right.

FNC: “The Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled over the free speech rights of a Mahoney City, Pennsylvania student who was booted from her high school cheerleading program for an expletive-laden Snapchat post reacting to being cut from the varsity team. 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.” School officials insist her Internet post disrupted the school environment and warranted her ouster. But her lawyers argued different rules apply because her rant did not take place during school. They said students should not be forced to ‘carry the schoolhouse on their backs… everywhere they go.’

“The justices also expressed a general concern over how specific the facts in the case were and whether they would be justified in issuing a ruling as far-reaching as either of the sides wanted. The court under Chief Justice John Roberts has often opted to decide cases on narrow grounds rather than upending or expanding long-established precedents like Tinker, which was decided in 1969. The issue of speech for students has become complicated in recent years with the phenomenon of cyber-bullying, as schools, students and courts seek to strike a balance over what speech schools can or should regulate.”

“Is there in the record something that shows what this young woman did… caused a material and substantial disruption? I don’t see much evidence it did,” an exasperated Justice Stephen Breyer said. “I mean, my goodness, every school in the country would be doing nothing but punishing.” And, “It didn’t hurt others as far as I’m aware,” Breyer said of Levy’s post. 

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“I strongly share Justice Breyer’s instincts when he said we probably can’t write a treatise here,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said. “It just seems entirely different to be talking about a team and not a school,” Kavanaugh said.

“You’re making Tinker basically a geographic test,” Justice Elena Kagan told Levy’s lawyer. She was referring to the landmark school speech case Tinker v. Des Moines. But, Kagan continued, with how ubiquitous the internet is, “why we shouldn’t acknowledge that and allow the school to deal with it?”

The student’s legal team responded. “She didn’t actually violate any of those rules,” noting that the school district didn’t appeal the case based on any alleged infraction of rules from Levy. Lower courts have sided with Levy. They should. What is off campus in regards to free speech is not under the jurisdiction of any school district.

This piece was written by David Kamioner on April 30, 2021. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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