Supreme Court Rules On Cheerleader Off-Campus Free Speech, Preserves Limited Right To Regulate Off Campus Speech

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The United States Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., a case involving a cheerleader who was suspended from the cheerleading squad for posting a profanity laden Snapchat message while off-campus. The issue in this case was whether public schools may regulate or impose discipline for off-campus student speech. The Supreme Court found that the school district violated the cheerleader’s First Amendment rights because there was no evidence that her Snapchat message created a substantial disruption at school.

The Supreme Court acknowledged, however, that although in this case the cheerleader’s Snapchat message did not create a substantial disruption permitting the school district to impose discipline, it was not instituting a categorical ban on regulating student speech outside of school, citing the need of school systems to be able to deal with issues like bullying and threats. The determination of what is and is not a substantial disruption remains a fact-intensive legal question.

The Court set out three factors that should be considered by the courts when determining what off-campus speech should be regulated by schools. First, that parents rather than schools are generally in the best position to discipline children away from school; second, that the idea of round the clock surveillance of students off-campus speech is at odds with free speech values; and third that schools should be teaching students that unpopular speech is worthy of protection.

If you have questions regarding this case or have a question about a specific example of off-campus speech, the lawyers of Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney are happy and prepared to discuss your inquiry and apply our knowledge and experience to your specific situation. We can be reached at (612) 339-0060.

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