U.S. Supreme Court affirms school violated student’s First Amendment rights, but allows for some regulation of off-campus speech

On June 23, 2021, in Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L., the United States Supreme Court issued a highly anticipated opinion addressing a public school’s ability to regulate off-campus student speech. In an 8-1 decision, the Court held that while public schools may regulate off-campus student speech under certain circumstances, the school in this case violated student B. L.’s First Amendment rights when it suspended her from the junior varsity cheerleading squad for her profanity-laced off-campus Snapchat post.

While off campus on a Saturday, student B. L. had expressed frustration with not making the varsity cheerleading squad at her high school by posting to about 250 friends on Snapchat a photo of herself and her friend, with their middle fingers raised, accompanied by a caption reading, “F**k school f**k softball f**k cheer f**k everything.” After seeing a screenshot of the message, coaches suspended B. L. from the cheerleading team for the upcoming season, citing a violation of team rules, and the school board upheld the decision. B. L.’s parents filed suit on her behalf in federal court.

The Supreme Court’s decision upheld the Third Circuit’s decision that the school violated B. L.’s First Amendment rights, but the Court also made clear that schools can regulate student speech that occurs off campus under certain circumstances, like serious bullying and harassment, threats against staff or other students, and participation in online school activities.

CSBA’s Legal Department will provide an in-depth look at the Court’s decision in the fall 2021 issue of California Schools magazine. Read the Supreme Court’s decision »