U.S. Supreme Court to hear Pa. free speech case about student’s video made off of district property

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MAHANOY CITY, Pa. (WHTM) — A debate originating in Pennsylvania is making national headlines: the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a free speech case out Schuylkill County Wednesday.

A 14-year-old freshman was suspended from cheerleading after she made a profanity-laced video on Snapchat.

Brandi Levy made that video off campus and during her free time.

It was about not making the varsity cheerleading squad.

Days later, the Mahanoy Area School District said she was suspended from the sport for a year for violating a code of conduct.

Levy and her family brought the case to court; two lower federal courts and a federal appeals court agreed she should be able to cheer since the school’s authority to enforce the rules doesn’t apply off of school grounds.

The district argues the First Amendment can’t force schools to ignore speech that disrupts the school environment just because the speech was launched feet away from district property.

School officials also argue this could impact efforts to protect other students from cyberbullying.

Levy points out she was not directing her words toward any coaches or teammates, and the school’s name wasn’t in the video.

“I feel like when I sign this code of conduct, I didn’t sign away my First Amendment rights, so I feel I should be able to say what I want out of school hours and if it’s not during the school activity,” said Levy.

“This is an incredibly important case, for the free speech rights of young people in this country,” said Sara Rose, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Any speech that’s controversial or could be perceived as offensive, when it happens in school can be punished if it would cause a disruption. But that is exactly the kind of speech that we protect outside of school.”

The executive director of the Pennsylvania Principals Association says the results of this case can have impact what school leaders can regulate not just across the state, but across the country.

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