Amicus Brief Addresses Student Off-Campus Activity Rights

person looks at cellphone

NASW joined an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year that supports a high school student’s right to free speech while off campus.

In an 8-1 vote released in June, the justices agreed with the brief’s argument: A student’s suspension for off-campus comments violated her First Amendment rights.

The case, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., involves a 14-year-old ninth grade cheerleader (B.L.), who was suspended from the school’s cheerleading team for a year after being chosen for the junior varsity team instead of varsity team and posting a picture on her personal Snapchat account with the caption “f*** school, f*** cheer, f*** everything.”

The Snap was posted off campus, on a weekend, from the student’s personal account and did not contain any threats, harassment, or mention her school or any students. Another teammate, who was the cheerleading coach’s daughter, took a screenshot of the Snap and showed it to her mother, which resulted in B.L. being suspended.

B.L.’s parents challenged the suspension in court and sued the school district for violating B.L.’s First Amendment rights. The parents argued that the school district did not have the right to discipline B.L. for her off-campus speech.

The District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled that the school violated B.L.’s free-speech rights by punishing her for the Snapchat post since the school could only punish B.L. for speech on campus or at school-sponsored activities. The school district appealed to the Supreme Court.

The brief NASW joined asked the court to create a standard that does not prevent schools from responding to off-campus speech that invades a student’s right to be safe and to access equal educational opportunity, while also making clear that certain student off-campus speech, such as student activism, remains protected under the First Amendment.

Find this and other amicus briefs at NASW’s Legal Defense Fund amicus brief database (NASW members only).