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  • Writer's pictureMWronska

The one Snap too far

Updated: May 14, 2022

How one photo took a cheerleader to the Supreme Court.

As reported by CNN, 9 judges of the US Supreme Court will look at the case of Brandi Levy - a cheerleader, who in 2017 did not make the Varsity team from JV, and she poured her regret and frustration through stories on Snapchat, showing her middle finger, saying what she thinks about school, cheerleading, softball and everything else in general. The publication was viewed by 250 people from her group of "friends" on Snapchat, and the print screen of this speech reached the coaches and the authorities of the school where Brandi attended. As you can imagine, she was suspended from the cheerleading team for a year.

Brandi's parents sued the school for violating her rights to express her opinion (freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by the US First Amendment *) because the stories were not recorded on school grounds, and the second was not recorded in connection with training (before or after it, or in the hall where they do train). Moreover, Brendi while creating the Snap did not wear a cheer uniform or a school uniform and the video was recorded during the weekend, which is during the free time from school. Advocate for the Brandi's parents Sara Rose, argues that when the children are not at school, they are not subject to school rules, because they are under the care of their parents and they decide what their child can and what consequences should be drawn.

The Levy family won in two lower courts and are now pending a Supreme Court decision. Several issues are mixed up in this matter. First of all, the right to express one's opinion, the right to limit constitutional rights by educational institutions, as well as voluntary participation in extracurricular activities.

Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (an organization fighting for civil rights) took an interest in the case, who noted that the case concerned basically 50 million students of public schools across the United States. Especially now in the time of COVID, when for the most part, we have online learning and it is very difficult to know which statements could be thought of as occurring on school premises. He believes that young people must be able to express their views.

On the other hand, serving as the acting Solicitor General of the United States Elizabeth Prelogar believes that restricting freedom of speech outside the university / school may strengthen the efforts of educational units to maintain a certain discipline, and will also strengthen efforts to reduce bullying, as these behaviors are most often place outside the school. In the ABC News material, we see a family in which a young boy fell victim to cyberbullying. Since everything took place outside the school, the school did nothing to help the boy. The feeling of helplessness and lack of help made him commit suicide.

The Supreme Court categorically states that prohibiting the publication of certain content as a prerequisite for joining extracurricular activities is not a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution (link below), and schools may restrict the right to freedom speech on their territory. The US has a common law system and hence in this document you will find sentences from similar cases, which say, for example, that the rights of students in schools are different from the same rights in the adult world **, and that schools can discipline and limit your students if it is to help implement the school curriculum ***


Couple years after the incident, Brandi says maybe she shouldn't have acted like this, nevertheless, she was 14 at the time, had to express her frustrations, didn't hurt anyone, and the whole video wasn't tied to a specific school or cheerleading team. She also believes that the measures taken by the school and the team were definitely exaggerated.


UPDATE

On June 16, 2021, a ruling was handed down affirming the superiority of free speech over school regulations. The nine-member court, by a ratio of 8-1, said that freedom of speech, as enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore the freedom to express one's frustration, is a superior right over school regulations.

The panel of judges also emphasized that their decision does not "remove" public school regulations that govern student behavior outside the school walls.

As a result, Brandi was allowed to return to the team where she was suspended for a year.

It is interesting to note that all hearings on this case that took place during the pandemic were held by telephone.

It is worth noting that the first time the issue of freedom of speech in a school environment in the U.S. arose more than 50 years ago (1969), when one high school student decided to protest the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband on his arm.



Sources:




*Pierwsza poprawka do Konstytcji USA- Wolność religii, prasy, słowa, petycji i zgromadzeń (Projekt w 25 września 1789- wejście w życie 15 grudnia 1791)

** Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969), *** Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675, 682 (1986)


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