Supreme Court Hears High School Student's Free Speech Case

Headline Roundup April 28th, 2021

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments for a case which could impact free speech for American public school students. The case, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L, centers around a then-high school sophomore who tried out for her school’s varsity cheerleading squad and didn’t make the team; soon after, the student posted an image of herself and a friend holding up their middle fingers to Snapchat, with an expletive-heavy caption. As punishment, the school's cheer coaches suspended the student from the cheerleading team for one year. The Pennsylvania school, backed by the Biden administration, argued the Supreme Court should allow schools to regulate students speech on social media when it becomes disruptive. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer David Cole, representing the student, argued educators should have no authority over student speech when they are not under a school’s supervision. The case could clarify the limits of the 1969 Supreme Court precedent that allows public schools to punish student speech when it "substantially disrupts" school. A decision is expected by June.

Outlets from the left and center tended to highlight the details of the case and provide analysis of the line justices must navigate between regulating free speech and leaving educators tools to deal with disruptive behavior. Some outlets on the right frame the Biden administration's backing of the school as support of censorship.

Supreme Court Hears High School Student's Free Speech Case

From the Left
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ANALYSIS

Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L, which the Supreme Court heard on Wednesday, is a tough case. And it’s not tough because it presents the kind of politically toxic questions that often cause the justices to retreat into their partisan corners.

Members of the Court from across the political spectrum spent Wednesday morning struggling to determine when a school district should be allowed to discipline students for speech that they engage in when they are not at school or engaged in any kind of school-sponsored activity. The question has become...

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From the Right
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The Biden administration and a Pennsylvania school district urged a skeptical Supreme Court to let school districts suppress free speech by students on social media if they deem it potentially disruptive to school operations.

The case, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., court file 20-255, was heard April 28.

The Biden administration was represented in a 112-minute telephonic hearing by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm L. Stewart.

The petitioner, the school district in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, was represented by Lisa S. Blatt. The student involved in the case, known in court...

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From the Center
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A wary Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed whether public schools can discipline students for things they say off campus, worrying about overly restricting speech on the one hand and leaving educators powerless to deal with bullying on the other.

The justices, hearing arguments in the case of a 14-year-old high school freshman’s Snapchat F-bombs, struggled to fit the need to protect students’ political and religious expression with the ability of schools to get at disruptive, even potentially dangerous, speech that occurs outside the school setting.

In one of many examples...

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