Discussing the impending Supreme Court Case between Brandi Levy and Mahanoy School District and the potential effects the decision may have on students’ rights to free speech.
Imagine being kicked off your favorite sports team, just because you said, on social media, that you did not like the tiring practices. The right to free speech? Gone? On April 28th 2021, the ongoing case titled Mahanoy Area School District v. B.LNo. 20-255 was argued before The Supreme Court. The case itself involves the First Amendment of the Constitution, specifically the freedom of speech, for students on online platforms off-campus.
The case came to light after Brandi Levy, a student at Mahanoy Area High School, posted a Snapchat photo (outside of school grounds) with a caption that included profane language. The post was created after Levy was rejected from the school’s varsity cheerleading squad; the post cursed out cheerleading, school, and softball. As a result, she was barred from joining the cheerleading squad for a year since the post was deemed to violate school rules, which Levy had signed and understood before joining.
Levy and her parents then sued the school under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the rules were unclear and vague, the post made no risk of disruption, and affirmed that the school was violating her freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
Since both freedom of speech and off-campus regulation are broad issues, there was confusion as to what the school’s rules were limited to. Many educators say that if they cannot have the authority of monitoring and giving rightful punishments to students, it can lead to more issues such as bullying and racism, since that can happen more frequently online. However, others argue that students’ opinions should be protected. Currently, the district court gave summary judgment in Levy’s favor, saying the school did indeed violate the right to freedom of speech. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit also agreed, saying Levy’s speech could not be disciplined under the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. However, the Mahanoy School District filed an appeal of the Third Circuit’s decision, thus creating a circuit split and leading to The Supreme Court for a decision. The final ruling is said to be expected around June.
While the case is still ongoing, the decision will have an impact on public school students in America, including students at AHS. Based on this case and the potential redefinition of the currently broad term, “off-campus,” students will have to accommodate what they can or cannot say. This is important because many issues deal with the topic of what is off-campus, such as dress codes, safety, lockdowns, etc. Changing the definition of this would affect whether students can voice what they like or dislike about school and other topics in general. While students can utilize their first amendment right now, this right could potentially end up being limited.