WASHINGTON (AP) – Fourteen-year-old Brandi Levy was having a day where she just wanted to scream. So she did, in a profanity-laced posting on Snapchat that has, improbably, ended up before thespeech in more than 50 years.
At issue is whether public schools can disciplineoff-campus. The topic is significant in remote learning because of the and raising awareness of the pernicious effects of online bullying.
Arguments are on Wednesday, via telephone because of the pandemic, before ahave school-age children or recently did. The case has its roots in the Vietnam-era case of a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, that suspended the war. In a landmark ruling, the sided with the students, declaring students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Ever since, courts have wrestled with the contours of the decision in Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969.
Levy’s case has none of the lofty motives of Tinker and more than its share of teenage angst.
Levy and a friend were at a convenience store in her hometown of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, when she took toto express her frustration at being kept on her high school’s junior varsity cheerleading squad for another year.
“F—- school f—- softball f—- cheer f—- everything,” Levy wrote in a post containing a photo in which she and a classmate raised their. The post was brought to the attention of the team’s coaches, who suspended Levy from the cheerleading team for a year.
Levy, now 18, is finishing her first year in college. “I was a 14-year-old kid. I was upset; I was angry. Everyone, every 14-year-old speaks like that at one point,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
She said that heruntil she was suspended. “My parents were more concerned about how I was feeling,” Levy said, adding she wasn’t grounded or otherwise punished for what she did. Instead, her a federal lawsuit, claiming the suspension violated their daughter’s constitutional speech rights.
Lower courts agreed and restored her to the cheerleading team. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia held that “Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech.” The court said it was leaving for another“the First Amendment implications of off-campus student speech that threatens violence or harasses others.”
But the school district, education groups, the, and anti-bullying organizations said in court filings that the appeals court went too far.
“The First Amendment does not categorically prohibit public schools from disciplining students for speech that occurs off-campus,” acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote on behalf of the administration.
Philip Lee, a University of District of Columbia law professor who has written about the cyberbullying regulation, said it makes no sense to draw the line on policing students’ speech at the edge of campus.
“Most cyberbullying content is created off-campus on computers, iPads, all kinds of electronic devices,” said Lee, whofor a nuanced approach to regulating student speech in the Internet age.
“But at the same time, you don’t want a situation where schools monitor everyone’s speech at home,” he said.
The Mahanoy Area School District, its lawyer, Lisa Blatt, said.
But in her brief for the district, Blatt wrote, “This case is about how schools address the bad days.”
Schools should not be forced “to ignore speech that disrupts the school environment or invades other students’ rights just because students launched that speech from five feet outside the schoolhouse gate,” Blatt wrote.
The school’s approach wouldto police what students say round the clock, said Witold “Vic” Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, representing Levy.
“And that is super dangerous. Not only would students like Brandi not be able to express non-threatening, non-harassing bursts of frustration, but it wouldschools allow schools to regulate political and religious speech,” Walczak said.
An unusual alliance of conservative and liberal interest groups has formed behind Levy, pointing to the dangers of expanding.