Blossom Bogen-Froese / Courier Students sit with hands symbolically silencing their voices in front of The Supreme Court building in an illustration on Tuesday, April 26, 2021. The Supreme Court is currently presiding over a case concerning students and their freedom of speech, on and off campus.
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“[Levy’s] message may seem trivial, but, for young people, the ability to voice their emotions to friends without fear of school censorship may be the most important freedom of all,” said National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) David D. Cole in his opening defense to the Supreme Court.

The statement was given Wednesday morning, April 28th, as the Supreme Court heard arguments for Mahoney Area School District v. B.L., a case debating the constitutionality of academic institutions penalizing students for comments made off-campus and not during school hours.

The matter dates back to 2017, when then high school student Brandi Levy made a public post on social media verbally demeaning her school, cheer squad, and softball team. Levi, who was out with friends at a local convenience store when making the post, was kicked off the cheer squad before being reinstated after lower courts found the reason for her suspension from the team to be a violation of her first amendment rights.

“I don’t think schools should have this power to act this way,” 19-year-old PCC student Tshering said. “Students should be able to freely express their opinions on the school they’re attending. However, I do understand schools expelling students for using their social media to propagate hate speech or bullying.”

“…I can totally understand being curious about a person and what they were up to. However, I would definitely feel uncomfortable if a faculty member actively searched me out in order to “gain information,” also said.

While the ‘Can your school reprimand you for bashing it at 7/11 on a Saturday night?’ debate may seem frivolous to some, others feel it is set to join landmark cases such as the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines, where the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The precedent set by Tinker, however, becomes harder to use as a guiding light in a time where many schools conduct classes online and primarily communicate with students via email, apps, and school websites—blurring the line between a student’s school, home and personal life.

In 2021, where does the virtual ‘schoolhouse gate’ begin and end?

“I feel like as long as what a student posts is not a danger to the campus then they should be allowed to freely express themselves. I don’t consider my account personally to be private but people have the option to [not want that],” PCC junior Nathan Paz said.

The ruling of Mahoney v. B.L. has the potential to shift the Court’s guidelines regarding student speech and expression for the first time in over half of a century, this time weighing in on the unclear territory brought forth by social media and the internet.

“… [Upending] the First Amendment’s bedrock principle…would require students to effectively carry the schoolhouse on their backs in terms of speech rights everywhere they go,” Cole also said.

The Court is expected to reach a final decision by the end of June.

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