A cheerleader from Pennsylvania could make every administrator’s job in the nation more difficult if the Supreme Court of the United States rules in her favor. Brandi Levy was a 14 year old cheerleader who went on a social media tirade after failing to make the Varsity cheer squad. "F--k school f--k softball f--k cheer f--k everything" was posted on her snapchat, which found its way to one of the coaches. Brandi was suspended from the JV cheer team for the season. Ms. Levy, now an 18 year old college freshman, sued the school for violating her freedom of speech.
The Supreme Court listened to arguments beginning on April 28, 2021 regarding the free speech of students while off school grounds. Tinker v Des Moines will no doubt be a point of discussion as the Justices deliberate. Tinker was the landmark ruling that determined how the First Amendment would be applied to public schools, when a 13 year old student sued for the right to wear an armband to school in protest of the Vietnam War. The ruling in Tinker’s favor ensured school officials could not censor student speech unless it disrupted the educational process. The Tinker case was directed at speech on school grounds unlike the Levy case where Snapchat was used to target the school at home outside of school hours.
There are a number of implications with Levy’s freedom of speech case for administrators. The first is how social media can now impact the lives of students and staff with the touch of a “send button”. The second is the difference between a student’s right to an education and their privilege of participating in extracurricular activities. Would this case lead to further discussions about extracurricular rules prohibiting actions off campus like drinking, smoking, or legal matters? This case deals with an extracurricular activity, but could potentially be applied to a student’s right to freedom of expression in the classroom if the same words were directed at a teacher and rather than a coach. Having coached multiple activities every year for the past 29 years, it would be hard for me personally to work with an athlete who was blasting me on social media.
We will hold our breath until the end of June while we wait to hear how the Justices vote. President Biden has already communicated his support for the school. Mary Beth Tinker has voiced her support for Brandi Levy.
Written by Andy Kowalczyk, Assistant Principal at Bay City Central High School and MASSP Board of Directors President