SCOTUS concedes school administrators can regulate off-campus speech

SCOTUS, on June 23, ruled 8-1 in favor of the plaintiff, Brandi Levy, in a case involving her suspension after badmouthing her school on social media.  Her profanity-laced diatribe was posted on Snapchat.  She wrote the message after she failed to make the Varsity Squad and was being kept on the Junior Varsity Squad.

Her rant: "F--- school f--- softball f--- cheer f--- everything," accompanied a picture of herself, and a friend, showing the middle finger.  (Note: she did not self-censor.)

A student took a screenshot of the message and showed it to the cheerleading squad's coach, and Brandi was subsequently kicked off the team.  The parents made numerous appeals, which ascended through the appellate courts, eventually reaching the Supreme Court.

At stake was the issue of whether a school has authority to take disciplinary action when a student speaks outside school grounds.

Schools have argued that extracurricular activities off-campus, but affiliated with the school, are within that purview.  The school also argued that speech that leads to a "substantial disruption" to school activities is an actionable offense no matter where it is made, off school property or outside school time.

The court's ruling, with Justice Breyer writing the opinion, is that the "school's regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances.  These include serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals; threats aimed at teachers or other students; the failure to follow rules concerning lessons, the writing of papers, the use of computers, or participation in other online school activities; and breaches of school security devices, including material maintained within school computers."

Nonetheless, SCOTUS held for the plaintiff (8-1), stating, "Her speech in this instance was not disruptive."

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.  One of the tangential points he made was that speech made off-campus can be regulated by the school when it is made on social media.

Thomas explains:

Unlike Tinker,* which involved a school's authority under a straightforward fact pattern, this case involves speech made in one location but capable of being received in countless others — an issue that has been aggravated exponentially by recent technological advances.

*Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) settled whether the presence of an armband (in this case, it was worn in support of a truce in Vietnam) was disruptive.  The court ruled 7-2 that it was not disruptive, and therefore was protected free speech, making the school district's actions unreasonable.

The courts seem to agree that when it comes to speech by students, wherever and whenever the speech is made, the school has the authority to administer disciplinary action if it deems the speech disruptive.

A student, Cody Conroy, visited a gun range on March 10, 2018, on his own time.  He posted a picture on Snapchat.  A parent of another student saw the picture and claimed that the picture made her child nervous.

Conroy was called into the principal's office and questioned.  Conroy was punished with a "three-day in-school suspension and one Saturday detention" for being in a picture.  His off-campus behavior was being considered a disruption.

That is the more important issue going forward: who gets to decide what is, and isn't, a disruption?

A school principal has decided that a student, Cody Conroy, participating in a lawful activity, off school property, on a weekend, on his own time, was "disruptive."

Would a picture of a student participating in a weekend protest, one where the message was "kill all cops," be considered a disruption?  Could a parent say that that student makes his child nervous?  Particularly when the nervous child's parent is a police officer?

Would a picture of a student participating in a weekend protest, one where the message is "all white people are racist," be a disruption?  Couldn't a white student be nervous enough to be disrupted around fellow students that believe he is racist?

My guess is that no disciplinary action would be taken by the school.  How could it if the school's curriculum — namely, CRT — mouths the same messages that we see during riots?

Sit down and be quiet.  School administrators, who are predominantly left-wing, will tell you when you're being disruptive.

[CORRECTION: This case erroneously stated the lower court holding of Tinker, upholding the school's restrictions on free speech, rather than the Supreme Court's holding, which was that schools could not censor non-disruptive speech.]

Big Fur Hat edits iOTWreport.com.

Photo credit: Pixabay license.

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