How Much of Free Speech Can a School Limit?: Brandy Levi Supreme Court Case
As I sit in my classroom, thinking of the perfect way to phrase my answer, the next witty comment to share with my classmates, or how to phrase my questions to my teacher, my speech is being monitored. I mean it makes sense. I attend a catholic school, I am on the school's property, and I am a minor, but what about after I leave? Well, personally, whatever I say outside of school can still be monitored, but I signed a contract within my student handbook stating that I agree to reasonable punishment for my actions inside and outside of the school. Rightfully so, if I did disagree with that statement, well then my mom would not pay the school, and I would not attend, but what about those who attend public school?
This past week the Supreme Court faced the same question, can the speech of public school students be monitored outside of the premises of the school? Well, before unraveling the largest student-speech case of the half-century, what we do is go back *cue lofi music*
It is 1969, protests are ensuing across America over the Vietnam war. The people are demanding an end to the Vietnam war. Similar to the current BLM movement, this was a major source of controversy. Mary Beth Tinker, one brave, kick-ass, thirteen-year-old, junior high student attended a meeting with fellow students who decided that they were going to wear black armbands from December 16- January 1 in protest to the Vietnam War. In combat, the principles of the school district decided to ban the wearing of black armbands in an attempt to stifle the protest in its infancy. If a student decided to maintain the armband after an initial warning, the student was to be suspended. Out of the twelve participating in the protest, only five were singled out and actually punished, Mary Beth being one among them. After being suspended Mary Beth and her family became targets for the surrounding community. Her family received death threats, public humiliations, vandalism, and much more. While the school board did uphold her suspension in a 5-2 vote, On March 14, the Iowa Civil Liberties Union filed a formal complaint on behalf of Christopher Eckhardt, John Tinker, his sister Mary Beth, and their fathers in the U. S. District Court of the Southern District of Iowa, claiming that by suspending them, Des Moines Public Schools had infringed on their right to free expression as enshrined in First Amendment. This was initially dismissed on the basis that the protest was disrupting the student's learning. Now, to interject in this little flashback, in that situation, who was keeping the children out of school? Who was truly disrupting their learning? Anyways, The US Court of Appeal 8th circuit was split, so it finally made its way to the Supreme Court on November 12, 1968. On February 24, 1969, the Supreme Court found that by suspending Tinker and her peers for wearing the armbands, Des Moines School District violated the students' First Amendment rights.
So coming back to the current day, The Supreme Court has been placed with a very similar case. Brandy Levy, a fourteen-year-old high school student at Mahoney Area High School was more than upset when she failed to make her high school varsity cheerleading team. Like many students in high school, she turned to her friends on social media to vent and let off steam. She used Snapchat( and if you do not know what Snapchat is you are either too young or too old to enjoy ANYTHING I am saying) to send her friend a single-view image of her proclaiming profanities about the school and its athletic department, while off-campus. The emphasis in that sentence being on the words "off-campus". The friend then screenshotted the image and it was shared with the coach. To quote her post exactly it said, "F*** school F*** softball, F*** cheer, F*** everything." and was supplemented with a choice finger.
Now, this is obviously not the choice situation to be caught in, but that does not change the fact that she is still given the option to say it.
In response, Brandy was banned from the cheer team for a year due to a "damage in moral"
This raises the question of to what extent can public schools limit the student's free speech, and that is exactly what the Supreme Court was faced with answering. In this digital age where things that occur away from school can be preserved and brought back into the school, where do the rules of the school end and the freedom of the student start?
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brandy, but there were some very interesting points mentioned. Such as "The student emails his classmates the answer to the geometry homework every day after school?" and "Student emails that they should refuse to do any work for English class until the teacher changes the syllabus to include more authors of color?"
These are both very diverse situations, one being used for cheating and another for protest, and all done digitally. These were both deemed school speech and therefore punishable by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart.
The future of how the digital age and the Internet affect our laws will be interesting to witness unfold, especially in the case of free speech, but for now, most of the Supreme Court Justices were not keen on creating a standard or precedent, and overall were looking to inflict as little damage as possible.