U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling in Student’s Free Speech Rant Has Every Student Around the Country Listening.


Brandi Levy is seen here wearing her former cheerleading outfit as she looks at her phone while outside Mahanoy Area High School in Mahanoy, FL.   Photo Credit:  American Civil Liberties Union. 

Last Updated: June 1st, 2021.  


In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines in which public school administrators can regulate speech that would disrupt the school. Recently, however, justices have considered whether this case applies to speech off-campus, and as far as social media. Many schools and parents have been concerned about cyberbullying. The court’s ruling in the Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. case could become a landmark decision for student’s rights.   


14-year-old Brandi Levy did not make her high school Varsity cheerleading team. Saturday, when she was not at school, Levy took to Snapchat and proceeded to post a picture of herself and a friend with their middle fingers raised, along with a caption “F*ck school f*ck softball f*ck cheer f*ck everything.” Her story got some traction. As another student took a screenshot of the snap and presented it to a cheerleading coach. As a result, the cheerleading coaches determined that Levy’s snap violated the team and school policies. Levy was suspended from the cheerleading team for a year. 


Levi’s parents attempted to make an appeal to the athletic director, and the superintendent. To no surprise, no motions were made. However, her parents later filed a federal lawsuit. A district judge agreed that the suspension violated her First Amendments, considering that Brandi’s speech was not disruptive. He ordered her to be reinstated to the JV squad in her sophomore year, and she made varsity her junior and senior years. “I was just feeling really frustrated and upset at everything that day,” said Levy, now 18 and a college student currently studying accounting. “It was sent to about 250 people who received Levy’s snaps, which dissolve within one day. “I didn’t think it would have had an effect on anyone, and it didn’t really,” Levy added.  


Arguments were heard on April 28. Reporters from the AP. stated that it is unclear whether the Court will accept the ruling of the Third Circuit. As both parties argued, it seemed that there were compelling reasons for schools to have authority over some off-campus speech made on social media. At the same time, however, reporters also stated that the Justices were also wary of granting schools too much oversight of off-campus speech to the extent that off-campus speech may reach into the schools due to social media use. Justices had considered if the specific case was appropriate to define new bounds related to student speech, arguing under Tinker. Considering that Levi’s Snap may not have been disruptive. 


The Supreme Court’s decision, expected later this year, will provide some guidance for public school administrators on how free speech affects their ability to respond to online student speech. The oral arguments last week suggested, however, that the Justices may settle on a narrow ruling in this difficult case to avoid “writing a treatise” With broad implications for other situations. The Husch Blackwell K-12 Education team will be watching closely for the release of the decision and will update this blog with a new post once the decision is released. 


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