Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.
B.L., a fourteen-year-old girl, was suspended from her school’s cheerleading team for posting an explicit Snapchat message expressing her frustration with the team on a personal social media account. Her speech was not threatening or harassing, and took place on a weekend and off-campus.
Juvenile Law Center and Advancement Project National Office, along with law firm Arnold & Porter and joined by 38 other advocacy organizations, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the United States in support of B.L. Our brief argued that expanding the authority of schools to regulate off-campus student speech would exacerbate existing disparities for students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQ+, who are already disproportionately and excessively targeted by school discipline, particularly for so-called “infractions” that permit discretion and invite subjective interpretation. We further argued that expanding school authority risks punishing students for developmentally appropriate expression and chilling core protected speech.
In an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the school’s disciplinary action violated B.L.’s First Amendment rights. The Court found that, while a “school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances,” B.L.’s speech did not cause the kind of substantial disruption that might have justified disciplinary action. Although the Court declined to “set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule” governing all off-campus speech, the Court provided guidance and gave schools notice that their ability to regulate off-campus speech is “diminished.”
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