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For several months, it has been hailed as “the most important case of student freedom of speech in at least 50 years.”Today, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Mahanoy Regional School District v. BL, This case can finally live up to expectations.

“The court made it clear that the power of schools to restrict speech on campus is not unlimited,” said Jeff Rosen, president and chief executive of the National Constitution Center, a non-profit organization. “Schools cannot behave like their parents when they discipline their off-campus speech. Students do have important First Amendment interest.”

Since last fall, Jen Reidel, a high school citizen teacher in Washington State, has been following the case closely. She teaches law and social courses to students in Bellingham, and her school is still doing distance learning. She feels that she must find a particularly interesting case to attract students’ attention through the screen. No Supreme Court case is enough to attract her students through those “black bricks” on Zoom.

But the Mahanoy v. BL The case just presented the environment and youth drama she needed. High school classmates? Check it out. social media? Yes it is. Teenage Anxiety? Oh yes, full of swear words and at least one upside-down smiley emoji. This case is related. This is undecided. And, without a doubt, this may have happened to one of her students.

Mahanoi Centered on a high school freshman, because she is a minor, she is referred to as “BL” in court documents, and she studied in the Mahanoy District School District in Pennsylvania. At the end of the freshman year, BL participated in the school’s school cheerleader but was not selected. Instead, she won a position in the junior school team. That weekend, at a local convenience store called Cocoa Hut, BL posted two photos in her Snapchat “story,” a feature that can display 24-hour images to everyone on the user’s friend list.

The first photo includes the caption, “F*** school f*** softball f*** cheers f*** everything” and spells out the curse. When the content of the picture saved in another student’s mobile phone photo was returned to the cheerleading coach, they negotiated with the school principal to suspend BL from the joint cheerleading team for one year.

In response, BL and her parents filed a lawsuit against the school district. Both the District Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals supported BL, arguing that her Snapchat did not cause “substantial interference” in learning, and because the incident took place off campus, Tinker v. Monk (1969) The student freedom of speech standard does not apply.

in Tinker, A landmark student speech case widely taught at the school today. The student was suspended from Des Moines Public School in Iowa for appearing wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. School leaders believe that armbands will interfere with learning. The famous Supreme Court ruling favors students, explaining that students will not “give up their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school gate.”

in August 2020, Mahanoy Regional School District is a small rural public school district serving more than 1,000 students. It asked the US Supreme Court to weigh how public school officials regulate students’ speech outside the school. The court agreed to accept the case.

As the case was submitted and the date of the debate was set, Reidel and her students plunged in.They use Student-friendly resources From an organization called Street Law, they studied past student lecture cases to understand their understanding, including Tinker with Morse v. Frederick (It is better known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case in 2002). They even asked Mary Beth Tinker, the plaintiff of the 1969 case, to join the Zoom course in the spring to share her first-hand experience in the Supreme Court of the United States.

(It is said that Tinker himself MahanoiAccording to Mike Hiestand, a senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center, he spoke with her shortly after making the decision. )

Use everything they read Mahanoi, And with regard to previous student speech cases, Reidel’s high school students had to deal with Mahanoy v. BL As their final exam, summarize the legal reasoning they support the decision and cite the precedents they think are most suitable.

“If she used Snapchatted to do this while wearing a cheerleading uniform, many kids would say,’Oh, I think she can be held accountable,'” Reidel said. “But considering that she only went out with her friends on Saturday, for almost all children, it really resonated with them. She was in her own time. Many children are really scared if the verdict turns out to be the opposite. …Where will it end?”

Almost every one of her students supports BL, citing Tinker.

The judges of the Supreme Court on this land seemed to agree. In Wednesday’s 8-1 ruling, the justice sided with BL, saying that her school district suspended her from office, violating her First Amendment rights.

In the ruling, Judge Stephen Breyer wrote that although in some cases off-school speech may be supervised by school officials—including serious bullying or harassment, threats to students or staff, and security breaches—but There are still some features that can combine these exceptions with the rest.

First, the school replaces the parents of the students (Substitute for parents) When the child is taken care of by them. Breyer writes that when students are speaking outside school, this is rarely necessary.

Secondly, if students’ speech inside the school is regulated and speech outside the school is also restricted, then “all speeches made by students 24 hours a day” are limited, thus completely prohibiting students from expressing certain opinions.

Third, “the school itself is interested in protecting students’ unwelcome speech,” Breyer wrote, “especially when the speech occurs outside the school, because American public schools are democratic nurseries.”

The statement of “Public schools are democratic nurseries” said, “Public schools are democratic nurseries,” said Histender of the Student Journalism Law Center, a non-profit organization that protects students’ rights to freedom of the press.

Reidel explained the same idea when explaining why she was excited and relieved by the court’s decision.

“If we don’t teach children the rights of participation and freedom of speech, and let it work in a chaotic manner within the school, I can’t see how we have the right to participation and freedom of speech outside of school,” she said.

Rosen of the National Constitution Center said that eight of the nine justices said that “students—our future citizens—need to express unpopular and sometimes offensive opinions freely”, which is “encouraging” .

Unanswered questions

The Supreme Court’s ruling is very narrow, and many issues remain unresolved-perhaps in the near future, it will be asked to consider these issues again. At present, the justices refuse to provide a “list” of exceptions, in which off-campus speech can actually be supervised by the school. (Does speeches during distance learning count? Speeches on the way to or after school? Speeches via school email?)

“Especially considering the advent of computer-based learning, we hesitate to determine which of the many school-related off-campus activities fall into this list,” Breyer wrote. “We don’t know how such a list will change, depending on the age of the student, the nature of the school’s off-campus activities, or the impact on the school itself. Therefore, we do not have a broad, highly general First Amendment rule. , Explain what counts as’off-campus’ speech…”

Rosen said the ruling did send a “strong signal” that the school’s power to monitor off-campus speech is limited. This signal will become even more important as students continue to study online, at home, and outside of traditional school buildings.

“As students do more independent work and communication becomes more digital, we may see some gray areas and blurred boundaries, and the court may need to create some rigidity in these places,” Raidel said.

She added: “When Tinker It’s decided that there is no online platform, and the idea of ​​”getting off the right at the door of the school” is black and white. It’s not anymore. “

On Wednesday morning, when the court’s decision was announced, Reidel immediately emailed her principal and deputy principal. She also plans to send an email to her students, even though it is summer, because many of them have checked the case repeatedly and want to know if she has any updates or knows the results.

“Even if the three of them open it, it’s worth it,” she said. “It helps to connect the knowledge we have learned. Honestly, I am very excited about this case. I think it is the right decision. The students feel that most of their world is determined by them, and they don’t. The right to speak is often for adults rather than students. I am glad that this decision is wrong in protecting students’ freedom of speech.”

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