Law & Courts

Major Case on Student Off-Campus Speech to Be Heard by U.S. Supreme Court April 28

By Mark Walsh — March 12, 2021 1 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court has set April 28 for oral arguments in a major case on whether school districts may discipline students over off-campus speech.

The case of Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. (No. 20-255) is one of two the justices will hear on the last day of their April sitting, which is also the last day of oral arguments for the term. A decision would then be expected by the end of the term, which traditionally is in late June but last year stretched into July because of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The speech case involves the discipline of a Pennsylvania high school cheerleader who had denounced her school and her team in vulgar terms in a post on Snapchat. The question in the case is whether the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District decision from 1969, which allows schools to regulate on-campus student speech that materially and substantially disrupts the work of the school, applies to off-campus speech, and particularly student speech on the Internet.

President Joe Biden’s administration and several education groups have joined with the Mahanoy district in arguing that schools should have the authority to discipline off-campus speech when it is disruptive to school. Lawyers for the student identified as B.L. have argued that her Snapchat message did not cause any material disruption at her school and thus was outside the reach of school discipline.

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