Schools Regulating Social Media Speech

The facts of this moot are taken from the case Mahanoy Area School District vs. BL. The case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Spring 2021, and it involves a question that is as old as social media itself: whether school can punish students for speech on social media. A traditional school speech case involves a student who is engaged in speech in the school setting. With the advent of social media, what is a school setting has become somewhat unclear. This case will perhaps once and for all settle this question.

FACTS: B.L. was informed she had not made the varsity cheerleading squad for the second year in a row, and she was angry. She immediately pulled out her phone, logged into Snapchat and expressed herself the way high school students will: “F— school. F—softball. F— cheer. F— everything,” she wrote, spelling out the offending words. In an accompanying photo, she and her friend stuck out their tongues and raised their middle fingers.

The post wouldn’t have caused much disruption or outcry except that one classmate took a screenshot of it and showed it to her mother, who was a coach on the cheerleading team. Next thing B.L. knew, she was suspended from the Junior Varsity team for the entire following year.

Question Presented: Does the First Amendment prohibit public school officials from regulating off-campus student speech?

  • Tinker v. Des Moines – this landmark case sets forth the principle that students have First Amendment Freedom of Speech rights in public schools.
  • Bethel School District v. Fraser – in this case the Supreme Court begins to set limits on the speech rights of students.
  • Morse v. Frederick – Court upholds the suspension of a student who unveiled a message at a school event that “could reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use” in violation of the school’s interest of promoting a drug free environment

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