The two sides in an ongoing debate over free speech at Mahanoy Area School District took their arguments public in the last day or so.
“BL” as she’s known in a federal lawsuit that could reach the Supreme Court at its next session, appeared on “Smerconish” on CNN over the weekend. The lawsuit is Mahanoy Area v. BL.
On Saturday, Mahanoy Area School District fired back with a public statement of its own.
Mahanoy Area v. B.L. – The Back Story
BL, whose real name is Brandi Levy, was put on the JV cheer team at Mahanoy Area in her sophomore year. Levy’d spent her freshman year on the JV team, too, and seemed certain that she’d move up to varsity in her sophomore year.
The cheer coach didn’t promote Levy that year. The student was not happy with that decision and one Saturday, decided to vent about it on Snapchat. Levy posted a message that read:
“F*** school F*** softball F*** cheer F*** everything”
Another member of the cheer squad at Mahanoy Area took a screen shot of this Snapchat message and showed it to the school’s cheerleading coach.
The team responded by suspending Levy from cheer for the year. So, Levy decided to sue the school saying it violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
Levy has won in lower courts but Mahanoy Area School District is determined to not let this go and hopes that the Supreme Court of the United States will soon hear the case and rule in its favor, overturning lower court decisions.
In her lawsuit, Levy contends that Mahanoy Area can not police what she says or posts to social media if it doesn’t happen on school grounds. The school, of course, feels otherwise.
The sides have been relatively silent on the matter until this past week.
Brandi Levy “BL” Appears on CNN’s Smerconish
Levy appeared with her father, Larry, on the “Smerconish” show on CNN recently to discuss the lawsuit.
Michael Smerconish asked Levy point blank, does she believe she should have been punished by Mahanoy Area for what she posted on Snapchat.
She says to him, “I feel I shouldn’t have been only because I wasn’t on school grounds and I wasn’t in any school attire.”
Her father, Larry, told the host that he “wasn’t proud” of what his daughter had posted to Snapchat that day but says Mahanoy Area overstepped its bounds by punishing Brandi as they did.
Smerconish asked Brandi if she was aware of school rules regarding conduct that would embarrass the team, coach, or school. She said that she was “pretty sure” that she’d read those rules but again, doesn’t feel they apply to her situation because what she posted on social media happened off school grounds.
Here’s video of the full interview, including comments from the Levy’s lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
Mahanoy Area School District Responds to Smerconish Interview
Clearly, the brass at Mahanoy Area School District saw the CNN interview. And on Saturday, the school issued a public statement and posted it to the official Facebook page.
“Mahanoy Area School District stands behind its restrained approach to disciplining student speech-which is the same approach that thousands of schools across the country have taken for generations,” the statement reads. “We are proud of our extracurricular programs. Learning to participate in team sports and abide by team rules teaches students lifelong lessons about responsibility and teamwork.”
Mahanoy Area clearly believes it’s justified in punishing Levy as it did. That’s why the school continues to fight this lawsuit in courtrooms and now, in the public arena. Appealing to the Supreme Court is obviously the last step but it’s hopeful the high court will take the case and rule in its favor.
“When BL broke team rules and posted messages that she admitted would undermine team morale and chemistry, BL’s coaches responded with a temporary, team-related punishment: suspending her from the team for the year. Obviously, BL’s family disagrees with that punishment, and responded by bringing a federal lawsuit,” Mahanoy Area’s statement continues.
If Mahanoy Area loses at the Supreme Court level – or the court doesn’t take up the case – the school believes it’ll open the door to similar behavior from frustrated students or create an atmosphere that’s detrimental to the future of team sports or other activities.
“That lawsuit has produced a judicial decision that leaves schools powerless to respond to speech that is directed at the school environment and would have a devastating effect on students’ well-being during the school day. The School District views that decision as inimical to our basic mission of safeguarding student welfare,” the statement adds. “Groups representing 1.7 million teachers and thousands of school districts nationwide have supported our efforts to reverse this unprecedented ruling in the Supreme Court, and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review.”
What Do You Think?
If the Supreme Court takes up this case in an upcoming session, how should the justices rule?
Do you believe Levy is justified and has a right to post to Snapchat or other social media platforms what she did?
Or does Mahanoy Area have the right to punish students for content they post to social media about the school even if it doesn’t happen on school grounds?