The boundaries between First Amendment rights and school disciplinary guidelines are often unclear. This assumption is especially relevant given the students’ widespread use of technology and social media to communicate. Therefore, the case Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. received much publicity – it was meant to bring clarity to the issues of the school’s possible restrictions on students’ expressive activities (Papandrea 53). Despite the significant potential for clarity, the Supreme Court’s decision left many questions open and ambiguous.
In the case under consideration, the school’s claims about student statements on social media conflict with the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and expression. Specifically, the dispute began after student Brandi Levy, identified in the case as B.L., was suspended from cheerleading because of her rude Snapchat about the school. Levy filed suit alleging a violation of her right to free speech (Hudson Jr.). Moreover, Brandi made the Snapchat posting off campus, and therefore the plaintiff argued that the parents should be responsible for the student’s discipline, not the school (Hudson Jr.). The court ruled that Levy’s post did not cause an infraction and that the student’s off-campus behavior was the parents’ responsibility. Moreover, the decision included that the court should be skeptical of social media posts, given their number, and that schools should support student expression based on the principles of democracy (Hudson Jr.). The court found the student’s rights to be paramount, but the decision sparked substantial controversy and discussion.
One of the case’s critical dilemmas is expression within and beyond the campus, blurred due to the technology use. Specifically, the court said that the precedent of the Tinker case, where students were allowed to express themselves in schools if they did not lead to significant disruption, did not apply to Levy’s case (Kim 62). Although the student’s expression was about the school in this event, the court ruled that it was off-campus (Kim 62). The court’s decision can be interpreted as allowing the judgment on the appropriateness of student speech to vary depending on the circumstances (Papandrea 53). As a result, there are no limits on what students say about schools, but there are also no clear boundaries for school authority (Papandrea 53). The court’s decision seems ambiguous and unclear, leaving many questions unanswered.
One should also consider that schools’ respect for students’ rights also implies responsibility on their part. In particular, participation in school teams and extracurricular activities is a privilege, which is confirmed by the precedent of the case Palmer v. Merluzzi (Russo 8). The purpose of such events is to foster a sense of unity and team spirit among the participants. Consequently, school administrators can impose reasonable rules regulating student participation (Russo 10). Parents and children, in turn, must respect the rules created for the safety and freedom to participate in the classes (Russo 10). At the same time, Brandi and her parents voluntarily signed a form about the obligation to comply with school rules (Russo 10). As a result, Levy’s actions can be seen as a lack of respect for school rules and values, including those that the team sports from which she was suspended should promote.
Thus, the case of Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. raised many questions about the appropriateness of students’ expressions about the school on social media. The use of technology to communicate blurs the lines between on-campus and off-campus behavior. As a result, it is difficult to judge whether students are violating school rules or whether the school is limiting their right to free speech. The court found that the student’s right to freedom of expression prevailed in the considered case. However, the decision is rather ambiguous, as some aspects were not considered. In particular, participation in teams is a privilege for students, and Levy signed a form of agreement with the school rules, and her behavior could be considered a violation.
Hudson Jr., David L. “Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. (2021).” The First Amendment Encyclopedia, 2021. Web.
Kim, Robert. “Under the Law: Regulating Student Speech in the Snapchat Era.” Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 102, no. 6, 2021, pp. 62-63.
Papandrea, Mary-Rose. “Mahanoy v. BL & First Amendment “Leeway”.” Supreme Court Review, no. 1, 2021, 53-97.
Russo, Charles J. “Student Speech and Social Media: The Supreme Court Finally Enters the Fray.” Laws, vol. 10, no. 2, 2021, 1-12.