It’s a case that could impact 50 million public high school students across the country including Massachusetts. Supreme Court justices are looking at their options in regard to what applies and what does not when it comes to free speech, and it all started from a 14-year-old cheerleader on social media.
That 14-year-old, Brandi Levy, was having a bad day and let her social media followers know about it. She ended up getting disciplined at school. Now, via telephone because of the pandemic, the Supreme Court is hearing her case in what’s being called the most significant case on student speech in more than 50 years.
For more than 90 minutes, the nine justices listened to arguments about the limits of free speech off school property from the high school cheerleader’s f-bomb laden rant on Snapchat.
“I didn’t specifically target anyone,” Levy said.
During arguments, the justices who were mixed across the political spectrum seemed to be divided over what schools can do to control “disruptive” speech. This included whether Levy’s off-campus post, which Justice Brett Kavanaugh likened to “blowing off steam,” deserved discipline.
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“Maybe what bothers me when I read all this is that it didn’t seem like the punishment was tailored to the offense,” Justice Kavanaugh said.
Other justices worried a free speech free-for-all would hurt school efforts to stop harassment or cyber-bullying.
“It might be that student speech that occurs outside of school is sometimes going to cause fundamental problems, disruption of the school’s learning environment,” said Justice Elena Kagan.
In 1969, the Supreme Court created rules for the kinds of restrictions schools can impose on school grounds. Tinker vs. Des Moines involved students who wore black armbands to silently protest the Vietnam War. The court said that students do not lose their first amendment rights when they enter school property.
“It helped me, like, expressing my feelings,” Levy said. “I don’t know. I expressed them online. I feel like it’s easier to express them online than it is to tell your parents.”
This case is about more than just a Snapchat post with the f-word. The final decision will blanket the entire country. That final ruling is expected to come by the end of June, early July at the latest.
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