Does a school’s Code of Conduct limit students’ First Amendment rights? SCOTUS to decide

Pennsylvania

SCHUYLKILL COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A Pennsylvania free speech case is getting attention across the nation. On Wednesday, Brandi Levy took her fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case has roots all the way back to a 1969 Supreme Court decision about free speech in school. But high school life is much different now, thanks to social media — and this current case could have big consequences.

“When I signed this code of conduct, I didn’t sign away my First Amendment rights,” Levy said.

Did she? That’s the question now before SCOTUS.

Conservative justice Samuel Alito expressed some sympathy for a position taken by the American Civil Liberties Union on a morning that featured unusual alliances.

“And I’m quite concerned about the effect of this on freedom of speech. I think we need clear lines,” Justice Alito said.

At issue? A Snapchat post by Levy after she didn’t make the varsity cheerleading squad. Levy spelled out the F-word after being relegated to the JV squad.

Mahanoy Area High School ended up suspending Levy from cheering at all for a full year. The case has received national attention in the run-up to Wednesday morning’s Supreme Court arguments.

1993 Mahanoy Area High graduate Jennifer Wells is following the case, too, from her current home near Denver, Colorado.

“It was a surprise to see my school, where I graduated from, on the national news in such an impactful case at the Supreme Court,” Wells said.

The question isn’t whether the language was inappropriate, or whether Levy could have gotten in trouble had she shouted the same thing in school. The issue is Levy wasn’t in school when she made the post.

“For young people, the ability to voice their emotions to friends without fear of school censorship may be the most important freedom of all,” Wells said.

The school’s view?

“Students shouldn’t be able to place their speech off-limits just by stepping off campus,” Lisa Blatt, an attorney representing Mahanoy Area School District, said.

Another unusual alliance?

President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice is siding both with the school and with the Trump Administration’s position, saying, wouldn’t a student want their institution to be able to do something about bullying even if it happened outside school?

The Supreme Court could decide the case in June.

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