Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L.

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: January 8, 2021
  • Case #: 20-255
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 964 F.3d 170 (3d Cir. 2020)

Whether Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), which holds that public school officials may regulate speech that would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school, applies to student speech that occurs off-campus.

Respondent posted messages on social media criticizing the cheerleading coaches’ decision not to include her on the varsity squad. The coaches received screenshots of the messages and decided that Respondent violated both the cheerleading team and the school’s rules. The coaches then removed Respondent from the team for the year. The school superintendent and school board upheld the coaches’ decision against appeals from Respondent and her family. Respondent filed suit against Petitioner, alleging that Petitioner violated Respondent’s First Amendment rights for disciplining her off-campus speech. The Third Circuit affirmed and held that schools do not have the authority to discipline off-campus speech. Petitioner argued that (1) the Third Circuit’s holding is in direct conflict with other Circuit Court of Appeals that have held that Tinker applies to student speech off-campus if there is a “sufficient nexus” to the school environment; and, (2) the lower court’s opinion negates school disciplinary policies inside the Third Circuit, leaving administrators powerless to discipline any disruptive student speech that happens off-campus unless the speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

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