MAHANOY CITY, Pa., (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — It’s a ruling some say brings the Supreme Court into “the internet age” when the Justices ruled in a case involving a Schuykill County cheerleader, and her school.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed a freedom of speech case involving students or minors in 50 years. In this specific case… both sides say they won.
“The school stepped out of their boundaries and I am glad the Supreme Court also noticed that too,” said Brandi Levy, the former student and cheerleader at the center of the case.
18-year-old Brandi never wanted or thought she would be part of a U.S. Supreme Court case, but Wednesday, eight of the nine Justices ruled in her favor.
“I was getting a bunch of text messages and then I went Twitter and I seen someone tweeted it so that’s how I found out and I got really excited,” Brandi told us.
In 2017 Levy turned to Snapchat, a social media platform to express her frustration at home for not making the varsity cheerleading team, using several curse words in the process. Mahanoy Area School District suspended her from the JV squad for one year for her “actions” that have now been deemed free speech.
However, the Justices are not foreclosing schools from disciplining students for what they say off school grounds.
“It wasn’t right for the school to do that. Like, I should have been able to express myself and so should everybody else,” Brandi added.
“As parent that’s my due process to issue a punishment if one is deemed necessary and I didn’t feel the school had the authority to do so,” said Brandi’s father, Larry Levy.
Larry tried to resolve the issue with the district and school board. When that failed, the family joined with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to bring the “attack on free speech” to district court.
The ACLU said in part on the ruling: “When we received the Levy’s complaint, we thought this situation would be resolved quickly and that the school would accept our guidance, but obviously that didn’t happen.”
The school district brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court after appealing each step of the way.
“It’s taken up four years of my life. I thought it would have been done and over with,” said Brandi.
The district released a statement on its Facebook page reading:
“The Mahanoy Area School District is pleased with and vindicated by today’s Supreme Court decision. The School District unanimously won the issue upon which it sought Supreme Court review: all 9 Justices rejected the Third Circuit’s conclusion that school districts lack authority to regulate off-campus speech. The Supreme Court held that it does “not agree with the reasoning of the Third Circuit.” The Supreme Court instead enumerated many examples of situations when school districts can regulate off-campus speech and made it clear that its list was not exclusive. So, although the Court upheld the $1 judgment in favor of Ms. Levy, we are very pleased that the Court agreed with our arguments about schools’ authority to address off-campus speech under a wide variety of situations. This decision is an important vindication of schools’ authority to protect students and staff and to fulfill schools’ educational missions.”Mahanoy Area School District