Mahanoy Area Sch. Dist. v. B.L.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Court of Appeals
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: June 23, 2021
  • Case #: 20–255
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, GORSUCH, KAVANAUGH and BARRETT, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GORSUCH, J., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

Schools have the authority to regulate some off-campus student speech without violating the First Amendment.

B.L. was denied the opportunity to join the school’s varsity cheerleading team and in response, B.L. posted photos that contained vulgar language and gestures. Upon learning of her posts, the school, suspended her from the junior varsity squad. Mahanoy Area School District appealed a judgement holding that it violated the First Amendment rights of one of its students, B.L. On appeal, Appellant argued that it had a special interest in regulating B.L.’s speech under the decision made in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731. The Court of Appeals held that Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech. In disagreement, the Court articulated that three features of off-campus speech that often, even if not always, distinguish schools’ efforts to regulate that speech from their efforts to regulate on-campus speech. First, a school will rarely stand in loco parentis in relation to off-campus speech. Second, regulations of off-campus and on-campus speech encompass all speech a student utters during a 24-hour day. Third, the school has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, this interest is heightened when the speech occurs off-campus. These three features diminish the leeway granted to schools regarding the First Amendment. The Supreme Court determined that, although schools may regulate off-campus speech in some circumstances, B.L.’s speech was protected by the First Amendment. AFFIRMED.

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