June 2021 —
The MLO Minute: By Nancy Potter, Esq., Heather Hulse, J.D., M.S., M.A., and Michael Connolly, Esq. —
This past June 2021, for the first time, the U.S .Supreme Court held that public schools’ authority to regulate student speech is highly limited in off-campus settings, including on social media. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, ruled for a Pennsylvania cheerleader who was suspended from cheerleading for a profane off-campus, Snapchat post.
The lower court had held that schools have no authority over student speech that occurs off-campus. However, Justice Breyer in writing the Court’s opinion did not go that far. Rather, he wrote: “We do not believe the special characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech always disappear when a school regulates speech that takes place off campus. The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances.”
In 1969, the US Supreme Court ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” However, since then the Court has upheld disciplinary actions against students for speech at school events, school activities and in school newspapers.
What does this new ruling mean for the students and families that we represent? Students can likely still be disciplined by public schools for off campus speech such as cyberbullying, threats to teachers or students, and online cheating. However, other student speech that occurs off-campus, including on social media, is protected unless it causes a substantial disruption of learning-related activities.
Our firm possesses the collective experience of over a century of education advocacy. We have been a leader in protecting students from unfair discipline for many years, while at the same-time protecting students from cyberbullying, particularly through social media. Our initial consultation is without charge, and most of our cases are handled without fees paid by parents of children with disabilities. Contact us today by clicking here or call 610-648-9300.