Current Supreme Court case spurs class discussion

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Andrew Jáuregui

A 2017 Snapchat post made by Pennsylvania high schooler made it to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, where it will be decided to what extent schools can punish students for off-campus speech. Journalism 1 students share their thoughts on how schools should be able to react to off-campus behavior pertaining to the school.

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From Snapchat to the Supreme Court, a post made in 2017 by Pennsylvania high schooler and cheerleader Brandi Levy of her flipping off the camera and writing “*** school **** softball **** cheer **** everything” has made it to the highest court in the country on Wednesday.

Levy was initially kicked off the cheer squad for the remainder of her sophomore year. After her parents filed a federal lawsuit that her freedom of speech had been violated, the federal district court in Pennsylvania agreed and ordered her to be reinstated on the team.

But the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the precedent set by Tinker v. Des Moines that students didn’t shed their freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate didn’t apply to off-campus speech.

It is now in the nine Supreme Court justices’ hands to decide how far a school’s authority reaches in terms of punishing students for off-campus speech, with their decision expected this summer.

As part of a Journalism 1 discussion on Wednesday, students offered their opinions on if schools should be able to punish students for their speech if that speech concerns the school but takes place outside of school.

Here’s what they said.

“I believe this is an extremely complicated situation, and there’s no clear cut right and wrong,” junior Eric Ellison said. “Although I think the student should be allowed to say anything they like on social media as long as it does not threaten or harm anyone or anything, she signed an agreement explicitly saying that she could not talk poorly about the school or cheerleading in particular. I think the school overreacted and the student should not have sent it to so many people.”

“I believe that in a school community people should be respectful to one another,” freshman Alize Shahzad said. “However, if it is outside of school and does not target anyone, I do not think students should be punished because of their speech because who knows how many people do this on a daily basis.”

“I don’t think the school should penalize the student,” senior Ashika Deshpande said. “Although her comment was inappropriate, it was not directed towards a specific person nor was it any sort of threat; therefore, she should not be punished by the school. However, the cheer team has all rights to punish her by either suspending her from the team or kicking her out of it because disrespect for the team does not have to be tolerated and she must adhere to the rules of the contract she signed.”

“I believe that the school should be allowed to punish the student based on her speech because when she joined the team and signed the contract she made a commitment to the team, and when she made her comment on social media, she broke that commitment,” junior Rishika Desai said. “I think there was a reason that the rules were the way they were and athletic teams have them in place to make the student act like an adult and prepare them for what the real world will be like.”

“I think that when something like this happens and it is about the school as a whole, the school has no right to infringe on her rights outside of their walls,” sophomore Emily Thomas said. “However, since she signed a contract she was technically giving up her rights in a sense. Since she signed a contract stating that she could not use vulgar language or vulgar gestures towards the department and she broke that rule they had every right to kick her off the team. The contract did not specify that she couldn’t use vulgar language or gestures only on campus, therefore it would be assumed that it meant at all times. Every child has the right to a public education, but nowhere does it say that every student has the right to be on an exclusive team. It comes down to morals, and I believe that we should treat social media like a public space, because if she would have said that out loud in a room of 250 people she might have even been kicked out of school, not just the cheer team. It is easy to see both sides, and the supreme court will definitely have a very tough decision ahead of them.”

“I don’t think the school should punish a student for something they did off of the school campus, but I also believe that students should respect their school even outside of school hours,” freshman Amy Retana said.

“I think that the school was in the wrong in this case because the statements that she made were off campus, after school hours, and on a private story,” freshman Zikra Mohammed said. “Any ‘contract’ that she may have signed due to her position on the cheer team would not have been binding, due to its infringement on first amendment rights, and due to the fact that any contracts signed as a minor cannot be legally binding. I do have to agree that the student could have chosen better decisions than to share what she said to 250 students, but at the end of the day, it was on a private social media platform, with no actual ties to the school. She did not threaten anyone, nor did she imply any violence or harassment, she merely stated her opinion and feelings, as everyone has a right to do. If the school wins this case in court, not only does it limit our freedom of speech, but it would also lead into a plethora of other issues including students’ abilities to express themselves and their opinions in numerous classes.”

“As much as I believe schools should play a minimal role in students’ lives off campus, I don’t see how this case could ever win in court,” freshman Grace Myers said. “There are too many benefits of moderating students’ internet lives for Levy to argue against, and it’s an extremely case by case issue. Even if she does win, I can’t imagine any federal laws being put in place about it, it’s more likely to result in some loose guidelines. It’ll ultimately be left up to each individual school to decide what the best course of action is, which is what’s already happening now. I’d love to say I’m confident this lawsuit can go in our favor and make an impact on students’ freedoms online, but I have high doubts.”

“While I see why the girl’s actions got her in trouble, I don’t think it’s fair for schools to be able to monitor and judge everything we do,” freshman Asha James said. “Most kids our age rant to each other, a lot of which could get us in trouble. If everything like that resulted in suspensions, then it would be meaningless. However, the girl did sign a contract for her cheer team which makes it more reasonable that she got kicked off.”

“I think that the school should have not have done this, because she was not on the school grounds or anywhere on the perimeter of the school,” freshman Aaliyah Williams said. “If she felt that way that’s her opinion and the supreme court should have not gotten involved with it. Even though what she said was utterly wrong and disrespectful, that was her opinion and she did that on her own time. But I totally understand why the supreme court and others got involved.”

“I can understand why people see both sides of the story but in this case I think the student was in the clear,” freshman Shruti Bhoyar said. “The story would be different if she was on school grounds, using school property or threatening someone but it was just a teenage girl venting about a bad day. Though her words were not the kindest, she chose them to express how she felt on a social media platform that has no correlation with the school. Her choice to exercise her freedom of speech is completely justified and shouldn’t have been faced with the harsh consequences that it did. The reality is that there are kids posting all kinds of things on social media; some even saying things that may be considered “slander” to their school, but none of them deal with what this girl did. However, I am glad that this case made it to the Supreme Court because I think it will help establish clear boundaries and open up a discussion about the limitations of a school/student relationship.”

“In general, the question of whether a school should interfere or not depends as each situation and context is different,” junior Vidula Pandian said. “In this particular case, the school shouldn’t interfere.”

“I don’t think this was a very complicated situation,” freshman Josephine Pearce said. “She wasn’t threatening anyone, nor was she being harsh to anyone specific. Everyone makes mistakes, and she was obviously frustrated. She probably shouldn’t have posted it online, but she was outside of school. Most students have probably felt this way towards school at some point in their lives, the only difference is that she posted it online instead of expressing her feelings to her friends (only a couple of people). I think if the Supreme Court were to favor the school in this case, that would just take more freedom away from students when trying to express their feelings.”

“I think this is really complicated,” senior, Urja Joshi said. “As someone who was in an organization where swearing was not allowed, I think that she did have an obligation to not swear. At the same time, she has a right to speech and her speech is protected since her actions were done off-campus and not at a school event.”

“I think the school was initially unjust in attempting to silence the cheerleader by kicking her off the team for a post made on a private story off school grounds,” freshman Faith Brocke said. “How this case is handled sets a precedent for all cases to come that are related to the right of free speech amongst both students and staff members. While the subject is touchy, and definitely situation specific, this student deserved to be able to say whatever she desires as it wasn’t bullying or hate speech against an oppressed group. Schools shouldn’t be able to censor speech when students aren’t on school grounds, because if they can take action against a girl who was frustrated at not making varsity, imagine what else can be done against other trivial and less pressing issues.”

“I am a huge believer in free speech, so when I first read about this case, I thought ‘the answer is so clear, how is this a debatable issue?’” senior Drew Adrian Julao said. “However, when I took the time to think about it, I realized that the situation is more complicated than it seems. She was off of school property and not in uniform, so she didn’t really violate any rules or regulations of her school, but there’s this tough grey area in the case because on one hand she made defamatory statements and shared them with a lot of people and on the other hand, she was venting in private and everyone does that. How can a student be penalized for that? It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of the case, to say the least. However this ends affects all of us students and how we are to conduct ourselves on the internet, if we are allowed to say certain things, who we talk to, how we talk, etc. I just hope I don’t have to censor myself in private because then I wouldn’t really be myself.”