Law

Can Schools Punish Kids for Off-Campus Snapchats?

"The notion that a school can discipline a student for that kind of...non-harassing expression is contrary to our First Amendment tradition."

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In the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited public school officials from punishing students for exercising their First Amendment rights on school grounds unless the speech at issue "would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline and in the operation of the school." This year, the Court will hear arguments in a new case that asks whether that rule should be interpreted to let school officials punish students for off-campus social media posts.

Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. originated in 2017, when a high school freshman and junior varsity cheerleader went on Snapchat to complain about her failure to make the varsity cheerleading squad. The student—known by the initials B.L. because she is a minor—posted a picture of herself and one of her friends with their middle fingers raised. The post went up on a Saturday, accompanied by this message: "fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything." That post soon came to the attention of a cheerleading coach, which led to B.L.'s suspension from the squad.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that the school was prohibited from imposing that sort of punishment for constitutionally protected speech. "Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech—that is, speech that is outside school-owned, -operated, or -supervised channels and that is not reasonably interpreted as bearing the school's imprimatur," the appeals court held.

The Mahanoy Area School District wants the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling. Social media and related new technology act "as a megaphone for off-campus speech, ensuring that it reverberates throughout the classroom and commands the school's attention," the district's lawyers told the justices. But thanks to the 3rd Circuit, school officials have been left with no authority "to discipline students for off-campus speech, no matter how obvious it is that the speech is directed at the school and will significantly disrupt the school environment."

B.L. and her lawyers counter that the 3rd Circuit's ruling is a straightforward application of the First Amendment. "In a weekend comment in an evanescent Snapchat message," they told the justices, "B.L. swore in expressing her disappointment at not making the varsity team to her friends. The notion that a school can discipline a student for that kind of spontaneous, non-threatening, non-harassing expression is contrary to our First Amendment tradition, and finds no support in this Court's student speech cases."

NEXT: Brickbat: Caught on Tape

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  1. But thanks to the 3rd Circuit, school officials have been left with no authority…

    Their own civics classes should have informed them that this is what the Bill of Rights does.

    1. It was a disappointing read.

      1. Write your own Constitution!

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  2. “Can Schools Punish Kids for Off-Campus Snapchats?”

    Depends on the nature of the punishment.
    To the extent that the school rightfully controls who may or may not be on the squad, then that right to control is what counts – not a vague concept of punishment.

    1. Had the school tried to impose punishment that would be effective off campus in areas not under the rightful control of the school, then that would be a problem.

  3. For ‘educators’ their not very educated on the laws of the land.

    1. their there not very educated

      FTFY

      1. I’m legit not sure if your response is sarcastic and supposed to be funny, or if you really don’t know that it should be “they’re,” as in, “they are.”

        1. You might want to check your sarcasm-meter, Holmes.

          1. Or would it be your pun-o-meter? Either way, check it.

      2. Thread winner!

  4. The school’s position reminds of people who complain about crap they read on Twitter. My first thought is always, “Why would anyone with an ounce of sense go on Twitter at all, much less pay any attention to something on there?” Twitter may be special in that it appeals to the brain dead, but Snapchat is unique in being for the 16-years-old and under set, whether chronologically or intellectually. That school officials are combing Snapchat for anything being said about the school explains a lot. No wonder they’re not even able to teach kids “the three Rs” anymore.

    1. “The school’s position reminds of people who complain about crap they read on Twitter. ”

      Actually it is the other way around.
      The school may simply be exercising their right to freedom of association – even when you may dislike or disapprove of the reasons.

      1. A public (government run) school does not have a right of freedom of association.

        1. You beat me to it.

      2. 1. There are no collective rights. A school, union, sports team, whatever has no rights – the people who make up those groups have rights.

        2. Government has no rights – it has privileges and it has duties.

        So any employees of a government school who don’t want to associate with students are always free to leave.

        1. Are you being facetious with #1?

          1. It’s a pretty standard libertarian position.

      3. what?

    2. But the woke retards on Twitter push alot of corporate decisions

  5. I hope the courts grants a permanent injunction against the school system existing.

    1. As a graduate of this very school district, I cannot disagree with you.

  6. If nothing else, B.L. is being taught a valuable lesson about the nature of government. Let us hope she’s smart enough to learn that lesson.

    I find her lawyer’s statement that “[t]he notion that a school can discipline a student for that kind of spontaneous, non-threatening, non-harassing expression is contrary to our First Amendment tradition”, suggesting that schools may be able to discipline a student for private speech that is non-spontaneous, threatening, or harassing, rather troubling, however.

    1. And when the school takes the position that sexual crimes were encouraged, what then?
      Words are violence.
      Those words encouraged a sexual act.
      Neither the school nor the cheer squad are likely to consent.
      Violent, nonconsensual sex is a crime.
      Q.E.D.

      1. It would be both peculiar and interesting if they chose that approach.

      2. If Gummint Skoolz officials take the position that the words “fuck everything” is encouraging violent, nonconsensual sex, then we’ll know they are perverts that have no damn business being around kids!

    2. They do need the power to discipline and protect children from harassment and especially threats that may be acted upon.

      They do not have any need to protect themselves from harsh language.

      1. They need the power to protect children from threats and harassment that occurs on school property or during school events.

        Schools are granted that authority because they stand in loco parentis but that is a temporary and transitory status. They have no authority to stand in for the parents when the parents are actually there.

  7. Can Schools Punish Kids for Off-Campus Snapchats?

    Of course. Because who better to take responsibility of the kids is the school district. This will also absolve all parents from responsibility of raising their children so they aren’t to blame when little Johnny or Julie fucks up in life.

    1. Yes. I see some unfortunate trends converging here.

      People want to shirk responsibilities, and offload them to the state. People want perpetual childhood, peaking at the threshold of sexual activity (but far from emotional or intellectual maturity). Some people want to play nanny, backed up by the power of government institution.

      Where else but public high schools to bring these urges together, and make everyone “happy”?

  8. “Well, since *someone* must punish kids for off-campus snapchats and we’re defunding the police, it *must* be the schools, DUH!”

    1. “Well, since *someone* must punish kids for off-campus snapchats”

      Says who?

  9. Welcome to The United States of Angry Schoolmarms. They’ll never let us graduate.

    1. Highschool California?

    2. “The United States of Angry Schoolmarms” It’s almost as if Lizzy Warren was in charge of it.

      1. This!

  10. “Off-Campus” in the social media universe makes little sense. It may have been filmed off campus but it gets viewed on campus. I suppose, to be consistent, the schools could have a draconian lockdown on cell phone and social media usage while in school. Turn in the phone at the door. But that would never work. If kids get to use this definition of off-campus then schools get to control their domain. Cheerleading squads are their domain. You don’t have a right to be on it. It’s an “on-campus” thing. You do what you want off-campus but live in a different reality on-campus.

    But seriously, this is just another kid who does not want to be accountable. She did something stupid and there are consequences. Hiding behind off-campus, on-campus jargon and bringing in amednments is just a distraction.

    1. The issue here is not that it was viewed on campus.

      The issue here is that it was viewed by a teacher at some later point.

      And to say ‘well, it could have been viewed on campus’ is the same as saying ‘well, it could have been viewed in China – so the Chinese should have some way of enforcing their laws here’.

    2. I’ve only seen a few of your posts, but it sure seems as though you like authority, a lot. Of course that would be authority directed at others, whom you probably do not like much.

    3. But it’s not even that stupid. Seems like a normal teenage thing to say when you are pissed off about something. What’s the big deal, who does it harm?
      “Off campus” means what it is. School has effective custody of kids while they are attending the school. That should be the limit of their authority. I’ve always found it utterly absurd when schools claim any authority over what students do out of school. If you have agreed to a code of conduct for a sports team or something, then it’s a bit different, but in general, techer, leave those kids alone.

      1. Seems like a normal teenage thing to say when you are pissed off about something.

        Cheer squad aside, it seems like a pretty adult thing to say. Adults *might* dress it up a litte more but the underlying message wouldn’t be inappropriate.

        Local golf club won’t let colored people on the course? Fuck that noise!

    4. Not a big fan of the 1st Amendment, huh, Hairyclitus? By your very broad definition, everything a student says anywhere is subject to punishment by the government school authorities, so school principals should decide what our “free speech” is. It would be too much trouble for them to stop kids from using social media at school, so students lose any free speech rights, no matter where they are. By your logic, not only don’t kids have a right to be on the cheerleading squad – they don’t have the right to criticize it, either!

      I love how you write that “You do what you want off-campus…”, then in the next paragraph, you write that you can’t really do what you want off-campus, because the “off-campus, on-campus jargon” is just a “distraction”. You see the contradiction, right?

      Can they punish parents, too, and keep them off the school board for their speech? Why not? It would disrupt the school board functioning. haha

  11. “Can Schools Punish Kids for Off-Campus Snapchats?”

    Of course; our illustrious overlords of the indoctrination elite can do whatever they wish.
    It is not constitutional.
    It is not legal.
    But they do it anyway.

  12. “B.L. swore in expressing her disappointment at not making the varsity team to her friends. The notion that a school can discipline a student for that kind of spontaneous, non-threatening, non-harassing expression is contrary to our First Amendment tradition, and finds no support in this Court’s student speech cases.”

    “But, left to her own devices, this bidding White Supremacist may get the idea in her head that it’s OK to criticize her Lord and Savior the Almighty Government. We need to nip that idea in the bud right now. Fuck this bitch’s rights.” – The SCOTUS decision, probably

  13. So my friend got in the same situation years ago. He is bipolar and he off on a rant on Facebook, which over course everyone in the school read. He wasn’t a student, he was a student teacher. He is now blackballed in the district.

    It doesn’t matter what the courts say, people have brains and will be influenced by what people do. Some kid goes off on a rant about the cheer squad? The school is not going to view that neutrally.

    Sure, the school as a quasi-government organization can’t officially do anything for what was posted on snapchat. But the idea that what a student does off campus won’t affect what the school administrators is just wrong. We should give students some leeway for being young and stupid, but being young and stupid is not a shield from the consequences of your actions.

    1. So, you’re saying that because the school can still impose ‘unofficial’ consequences the courts should just throw up their hands and allow them to impose whatever they want ‘officially’?

      Also, I do not agree with your assertion that “Some kid goes off on a rant about the cheer squad? The school is not going to view that neutrally.”

      These are supposed to be adults. They know kids have temper tantrums. FFS, all the kid did was say ‘fuck the school’. Are we so thin-skinned that we should react like a child and lash out because we were ‘disrespected’?

      Because that’s something children do.

      1. The school cannot tolerate such open criticisms; I suspect they think if they don’t [over] react to something like this, it will be a virtual open season on them from students.

        This is how you get zero tolerance policies.

        1. So, just like when I was in school, except we didn’t have social media to broadcast all of our stupid thoughts on.

      2. It’s also something that too many adults do. But not something that should be encouraged in anyone.

      3. Some school districts MAKE their students sign a “Code of Conduct” at the beginning of the year. Some of those codes say that they can be enforced 24-7-365. Several years ago there were pictures posted on Facebook from a Church trip to Germany. Some of those pictures showed teenagers drinking beer. They were of legal age in Germany and were with their parents. The trip was in July. A school district in Western Pennsylvania SUSPENDED those students when they returned to school in the Fall. A Judge threw out the suspensions, but, allowed a ban on extracurricular activities. The District tried to use the “Code of Conduct” as the justification for the suspensions.

        A few years ago my Nephew was suspended for smoking. It was a Saturday, he was in his yard and he was of legal age to smoke at the time. A Coach driving by saw him and turned him into the Administration. Don’t give me the crap about smoking being bad for your health. “Cigarette evil, Weed good!”

        Tell your children NOT to sign anything at school. Have them say that you want to review it before they sign it. If the School won’t let them, go to the School. They are essentially making minors sign legally binding contracts, which in itself is illegal.

    2. A government-run and taxpayer-financed school is a “quasi-government organization”? Huh? You need to go back to school.

  14. Seems that nowadays everything is the school’s concern, whether it happens on or off campus/on social media. Same thing for people who post stupid shit on their personal social media, then get fired because it makes their employer look bad. I disagree with it, but it’s the unfortunate reality we live in

  15. “Bong Hits for Jesus?”

  16. All the school needs to do is call it infrastructure or a public health crisis.

  17. Are we in communist China?

    If so, then yes.

  18. Reason #42 that all schooling should be private.

  19. If I were in charge of that cheerleading squad, a message like that communicates to me that “I don’t want to be on your squad.” So of course, for that reason, and also because it might affect the morale of the others, I would remove her.

    If you are a Varsity BB coach, you may have lots of guys trying out, but can only keep so many, so you have to tell those who don’t make the cut, “Sorry, you don’t make the team this year.”

    She is not being expelled or suspended; that is real punishment. If you are trying to build team morale and cohesiveness, and someone says, “F—- everybody” you don’t want them on your team.

    If I were a court judge, I would not waste my time on such a case as this.

    1. Exactly. I feel like everyone is in a rush to miss the point here. There can be no school sports if coaches cannot discipline students.
      The commentariat here must be a bunch of nerds who never lettered in anything.

      1. The worst punishment a coach can impose (and should be ABLE to
        impose) is, “You’re off the team.” Anything more serious than that would require the police, not the school’s half-assed Star Court. If it doesn’t involve a crime on school grounds, the school should shut their cakeholes.

  20. Remember the old days? If you had a beef with another kid you walked across the street and duked it out. The school administration ignored it because it wasn’t on school property.

  21. I don’t trust school officials to handle these situations. How long before they use ‘critical race theory’ to make their punishment decisions? There is a reason teaching degrees are the easiest to get. The average SAT score for those with education degrees is lower than the average SAT score of the kids they teach. The people who teach our children civics clearly have no clue what the Bill of Rights is and what it means.

  22. If Gummint Schoolz officials can punish students for peaceful expression off-campus,why, then Gummint could do it to EISTAU Gree-Vance…Then Everything really would be Terrible And Unfair!

    (Did I do that right, EISTAU? If I owe you royalties, please put it on my tab.)

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