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‘It’s just absurd to me’



New York Times

A cheerleader’s vulgar message asks for a settlement with the first change

WASHINGTON – It was a Saturday in the spring of 2017, and a ninth-grade student in Pennsylvania had a bad day. She had just heard that she had not managed to create the cheerleading squad for Varsity and wanted to stay at Junior Varsity. The student expressed his frustration on social media and sent a message on Snapchat to around 250 friends. The message included a picture of the student and a friend with raised middle fingers, along with text expressing a similar feeling. Using a curse word four times, the student expressed his displeasure with “school”

;, “softball”, “hurray” and “everything.” Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times Although Snapchat messages are fleeting in design, another student took a screenshot of it and showed it to his mother, a coach. The school suspended the student from cheerleading for a year, saying the punishment was necessary to “avoid chaos” and maintain a “team-like environment.” The student sued the school district and won a sweeping victory in the 3rd American District Court, in Philadelphia. The court said the first amendment did not allow public schools to punish students for speaking outside the school grounds. Next month, at its first private conference after the holiday, the Supreme Court will consider whether the case should be heard, Mahanoy Area School District v. BL, nos. 20-255. The ruling of the 3rd district is in tension with decisions from several other courts, and such divisions often invite the Supreme Court to consider. power to discipline students for what they say from school. “The issue presented is recurring and has become even more pressing as COVID-19 has forced schools to operate online,” said a school district brief. “Only this court can resolve this threshold of first amendment that destroys the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools.” Justin Driver, law professor at Yale and author of “The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, Supreme Court and the Battle for the American Mind,” agrees with the school district, to a point. ” It is difficult to exaggerate the effort on this constitutional issue, “he said. But he added that schools had no business telling students what to say when they were not in school.” In modern times, a huge percentage of minors are Off-campus speech, but online, “he said.” Judicial decisions that allow schools to regulate off-campus speech that criticize public schools are the opposite of the first amendment. Such decisions allow schools to enter any student’s home and declare critical statements prohibited, which should make all Americans deeply troubled. “The precedent is from another time. In 1969, the Supreme Court in Tinker allowed Des Moines Independent Community School District students to wear black bracelets to protest the Vietnam War, but said disruptive speech, at least on school grounds, could be punished.Distinguishing between what students say about campus and off was easier in 1969, before the rise of social media. These days, most courts have allowed public schools to discipline students for posting on social media as long as they are involved in school activities and threaten to disrupt them. to limit the ability of public schools to record many kinds of disturbing speech from students on social media, including racist threats and cyberbullying. foundation. It would have been enough, he said, to say that her speech was protected by the first change because it did not interfere with the school’s activities. The majority was wrong, he said, to protect all speech off campus. In a brief appeal to the Supreme Court to consider the school district’s appeal, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said the line the 3rd circuit had drawn was too rough. disturbing or harmful tweet sent from the school cafeteria, or after the student has crossed the street on the way home, has the same impact, »said briefly. “The formal circle rule of the third district renders schools powerless when a hate message is launched off campus.” The student, represented by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Supreme Court that the first amendment protected her “colorful expression of frustration, made in a short-lived Snapchat on her personal social media, an off-campus weekend that contained no threat or harassment or publicity. of her school, and that did not cause or threaten any disruption of her school. “Briefly focused on the last point, and it did not take much time to defend the 3rd circuit broader approach. The Supreme Court has a reputation for being protective of the rights to the first amendment. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts described himself at a law school last year as “probably the most aggressive defender of the first change in court now.” But the court has methodically cut back on students ‘rights to the first change since the Tinker decision in 1969. And in the court’s last major decision on students’ freedom of expression, in 2007, Robert wrote the majority opinion and sat down with a principal who had suspended a student for having displayed a banner that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Driver said it indicated a blind spot. “There is at least one major area where Supreme Court Justice Robert’s defense of the first amendment is particularly lax: the student’s speech,” he said. “I sincerely hope that Roberts will regain his love for the first change when the court finally resolves this urgent issue.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times. (C) 2020 The New York Times Company


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