Levy fights for student speech rights



In this photo provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, Brandi Levy wears her former cheerleading outfit as she looks at her mobile phone while sitting outside Mahanoy Area High School in Mahanoy City, Pa., on April 4, 2021. A profanity-laced posting by Levy on Snapchat ​has ended up before the Supreme Court in the most significant case on student speech in more than 50 years. At issue in arguments to be heard Wednesday, April 28, 2021, via telephone, is whether public schools can discipline students over something they say off-campus. (Danna Singer/ACLU via AP)

In May of 2017, Brandi Levy, a ninth grader at Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania sent a heated text message which would land her in the Supreme Court this month. Frustrated because she did not make the varsity cheer team, Levy posted a rant on Snapchat which used profane language against her school and cheer team. Her coaches suspended her from the team all together, and they claimed her actions were against their foul language and inappropriate gestures policy. However, the actions taken were in fact against student rights of free speech, especially since the social media post was done outside of the school. It was unfair to kick her off the cheer team under these circumstances. 

“This decision should offer clear guidance to schools and students alike as to how to find the appropriate balance of respecting student free speech rights while also facilitating an environment conducive to learning,” AP history and economics teacher Tyler Shaw said. 

The case’s outcome will change the basis of suspension for over 50 million students in America if they hand students the right to freedom of speech as they should. The current laws which exist to regulate student speech are too broad and do not have a strict guideline for administrators to judge behavior on. The US Justice Department stand against Levy because they fear no regulation of speech can lead to an overflow of online student harassment, but schools now have been given too much authority to be able to restrict political, religious and controversial speech which stands against Americans’ constitutional rights.

I think both sides are eager for a decision to bring clarity to an issue that has remained ambiguous for a long time. There is relatively little precedent in this area of the First Amendment,” Shaw said.  

While school sports teams do have the right to discourage and even kick athletes off their team for inappropriate behavior or language, this case brings into question whether or not language can be censored outside of the school day and off school grounds. 

“Keeping a good image is really important for the cheer team, so what we say and post can affect us, that being said, there is still freedom of speech and we are allowed to express our opinions and feelings,” cheerleader Ashlee K. ‘22 said. 

The Levy case is one of the largest debates and cases of students’ free speech in decades. Levy’s case brings a spot of hope for change to those who believe discussions about student speech rights should have a serious update across the country. 

“On one hand, I see the perspective of the school in arguing that student speech that disrupts the learning environment of the school needs to be regulated, regardless of where and when the speech occurs. However, I also then wonder if this case is judging the type of student speech that is beyond the reach of school officials,” Shaw said. 

The case has not yet reached a conclusion, but with the constitutional right to speak in a free manner at hand, it should change the way schools censor their students. The schools can not be given too much power as to silence their students, especially off of school property.