Supreme Court set to hear major school speech case after cheerleader booted from squad over Snapchat post

Cheerleader at centre of landmark Supreme Court case speaks out

‘I couldn’t say anything without getting yelled at or getting in trouble for doing it. I felt like I couldn’t express how I felt without getting in trouble’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 28 April 2021 20:24
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The cheerleader who’s at the centre of a landmark Supreme Court case concerning student free speech is speaking out.

Brandy Levy, now 18, said she felt “isolated” after being punished for cursing on Snapchat about not being selected for her high school’s varsity cheerleading team.

Ms Levy was suspended from the team after a profanity-laden social media tirade about not making it onto the team. She sued her school for punishing her for something she said out of school, leading to a pivotal Supreme Court case.

Justin Driver, a Yale law professor, told The Washington Post: “This is the most momentous case in more than five decades involving student speech."

At the time, in May 2017, Ms Levy was a 14-year-old ninth-grade student at Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania.

Angry and annoyed at not being selected for her school’s varsity cheerleading team, she took a selfie with a friend while flipping off the camera and posted it to Snapchat with the caption: “f**k school, f**k softball, f**k cheer, f**k everything”.

Her coaches suspended her for a year because she had violated the team rules, which included showing respect, staying clear of “foul language and inappropriate gestures,” and a rule against “any negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches placed on the internet”.

“When the school did that, I kind of felt isolated. I couldn't say anything without getting yelled at or getting in trouble for doing it. I felt like I couldn't express how I felt without getting in trouble,” Ms Levy told Insider.

Speaking about the case, she said: “I feel like other people wouldn't go this far. I mean, I didn't expect it to go this far.”

The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments in the case on Wednesday. The Pennsylvania ACLU is representing Ms Levy. Its legal director Witold Walczak told Insider the decision of the court will affect 50 million public school students in the country.

Mr Walczak said the legal standard for student speech, which is currently regulated depending on how “disruptive” it is, is much too broad. Schools can in actuality punish students for any kind of controversial speech.

“Just to use examples on the politics of the school district, if you wear a T-shirt with a Confederate flag, it could be deemed disruptive. In a different school district, saying ‘black lives matter’ is disruptive. So it would allow schools to regulate students’ political, religious, ideological speech, which is really dangerous,” Mr Walczak told Insider.

The Biden administration and the Department of Justice are supporting the school district, whose appeal of a decision in Ms Levy’s favour in a lower court brought the case to the highest court in the country. The district has argued against removing regulations that allow schools to go after online bullying and harassment.

In a filing, the district asked: “If a student on the weekend uses her private email to blast harassing messages to school email accounts, where did the speech happen?”

Mr Walczak told Insider that schools should be able to go after online harassment without infringing on students free speech rights.

“The way government has done that, we think is just too clumsy and would give schools too much authority to be able to restrict political, religious, controversial speech or anything that's critical of the school. That just goes too far in terms of restricting students’ free speech rights,” he said.

Ms Levy told Reuters: “I shouldn’t have to be afraid to express myself and I should be able to do it how I want to without being punished by anybody. What I said, it wasn’t targeting, it wasn’t bullying, harassment, or anything like that.”

Ms Levy, now studying accounting in college, told Insider the case hasn’t made her interested in practising law herself.

“I’m not interested in doing any of this lawyer stuff. It looks stressful. It looks really stressful. I think I'm going to stick with accounting,” she said.

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