Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L., a Minor, By and Through Her Father, Lawrence Levy and Her Mother, Betty Lou Levy, No. 19-1842.
The plaintiff in this lawsuit is a high school cheerleader who – due to frustrations arising from, e.g., her not advancing beyond the junior varsity cheerleading team – vented by posting (on a weekend and away from school) to Snapchat the words “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” This resulted in her suspension from the cheerleading team.
She sued. The trial court found in her favor, holding that the snap was off-campus speech and thus not subject to regulation, and that the school violated her First Amendment rights. The Third Circuit (citation: 964 F.3d 170) affirmed.
The Question Presented is:
Whether Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), which holds that public school officials may regulate speech that would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school, applies to student speech that occurs off campus.
The Third Circuit held that the Tinker case categorically did not apply to off-campus student speech.
It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court determines whether and to what extent the Tinker case – decided decades ago – applies in the Internet Age.