The US Supreme Court recently said it would hear the First Amendment case involving Mahanoy Area School District’s cheerleading team and a now-former student who was suspended from it due to a Snapchat post.
According to a recent announcement from ACLU Pennsylvania, which is representing “BL” in the case, SCOTUS agreed to hear Mahanoy Area’s appeal of a lower court ruling which said it didn’t have the authority to punish a student for off-campus activity.
BL has since been identified as Brandi Levy, a 2020 graduate of Mahanoy Area. She was suspended during her sophomore year in 2017 after she posted to Snapchat the following message:
“F*** school F*** softball F*** cheer F*** everything”
That message found its way in front of the Mahanoy Area cheerleading coach who suspended Levy for the entire year. Levy was mad because the coach told her she’d have to spend her sophomore year on the school’s JV cheer squad.
Levy filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming Mahanoy Area was violating her First Amendment right to free speech. It claimed that Levy was free to post whatever she wanted on Snapchat or anywhere because when she did it, it was on a weekend, not on school grounds, and she in no way was representing Mahanoy Area in an official capacity.
A federal judge ordered Mahanoy Area to let Levy back on the team.
Mahanoy Area Cheerleading Case Going to Supreme Court
Since the initial court filing, the two sides in this case have gone back-and-forth and Mahanoy Area has been determined to emerge victorious. And the school will get its case heard before the highest court in the land to find out if it did have the right to suspend Levy as they did a few years ago.
In a statement issued just after the New Year, Mahanoy Area says if the Supreme Court rules against it, it’ll leave them and other public schools powerless.
“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 reads. “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.”
In response to learning the Supreme Court will hear the Mahanoy Area cheerleading case, Reggie Shuford, ACLU Pennsylvania executive director, says, “The beating heart of the Bill of the Rights is the idea that government power is limited. This public school wants the nation’s highest court to grant it sweeping new authority to punish students for speech that occurs away from school and causes no disruption. We look forward to explaining to the justices why the authority that the school is seeking is antithetical to the concept of free speech that is the foundation of the First Amendment.”
Sara Rose, the senior staff attorney at ACLU-PA, explains their defense in the upcoming case.
“Allowing public schools to punish student speech that takes place off-campus outside of school hours would teach students the wrong lesson – that they have no free-speech rights anywhere,” she says. “Requiring students to refrain from criticizing their sports team or extracurricular activity when they are off-campus as a condition of participating in that activity, as the school district did in this case, is inconsistent with core First Amendment values. We will explain to the court why the First Amendment limits the school’s ability to punish students for this type of speech, and we hope that the court will agree with the four previous rulings in this case that recognized that.”
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