The speech of a teenager who led to the expulsion of her team of cheerleaders reached the United States Supreme Court.
Brandi Levy sent a swearing post to her friends on Snapchat in 2017, venting her frustrations with the cheerleaders and her school.
But when the Pennsylvania school coaches discovered the position, she was barred from joining the team for a year.
The case will determine whether schools have the right to punish students for what they say outside campus.
It is being seen as a major test of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects the rights of freedom of expression.
Discussions on the case will begin on Wednesday.
What was in the post?
Levy, then 14, posted the snapshot – a combination of photo and text that disappears after 24 hours – when she was upset that she hadn’t been chosen for the college cheerleading team.
She posted on a Saturday while at Cocoa Hut, a 24-hour convenience store in Mahanoy City. The store is not part of the school.
He showed it with his raised middle finger and the caption contained a four-letter expletive aimed at cheerleaders, softball, school and “everything” in general.
The post was captured by a friend and shown to another student, who was the daughter of one of the Mahanoy Area High School cheerleaders.
The coaches suspended Levy from the team for a year.
She then sued the school district in the Mahanoy area, arguing that the decision violated her First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
What is Mrs. Levy’s argument?
Levy, now 18, says the photo was posted from an off-campus location on an out-of-school day – meaning that the school had no authority to discipline her for it.
Students’ speech is protected by a historic 1969 Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, when students wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.
The court in that case ruled that the students’ speech was protected, as long as it did not cause “material and substantial” disturbance in the school.
When Levy’s case reached the Court of Appeal last year, the Philadelphia court ruled in her favor. He said the 1969 decision did not give school officials the authority to discipline students for things they say off campus.
The court emphasized that this decision did not consider “the First Amendment implications of off-campus student speech that threatens violence or harasses others”.
Levy told the Associated Press news agency, “I’m just trying to prove that young students and adults like me shouldn’t be punished for expressing their own feelings and letting others know how they feel.”
What does the school say?
Following the Court of Appeal’s decision last year, the school district asked the Supreme Court to take over the case.
He argues that the team commonly takes action against students because of speech and actions that take place off campus – and that, in recent times, this has become more important as students who learn remotely due to Covid-19 have blurred the boundaries between off campus and inside campus communications.
He also says that since Ms. Levy’s Snapchat post was sent to her school friends and other cheerleaders, it disrupted the school community.
The district argues that a decision in favor of the teenager would make it more difficult for schools to police bullying, racism and harassment that occur outside school hours on social media.