The Supreme Court is hearing a case that could impact every student in the nation. The case involves 14-year-old cheerleader Brandi Levy in Pennsylvania. She tried out to be a varsity cheerleader, but she was only offered a spot on the junior varsity cheerleading team after her tryouts. Frustrated with her placement, Brandi posted a video on Snapchat where she used profane language against her school. She was banned from the cheerleading team for an entire year for her high crime of throwing out a few f-bombs on a video taken off-campus. Levy claims that in a moment of frustration and anger she chose to post the video to express her disappointment. She says that she feels that she has done nothing wrong at all, as all the students at her school curse. The school district in opposition to Levy claimed that her behavior was detrimental to the school environment, which justifies their punishment. The outcome of this case will dictate the future of student speech. If the school wins, all actions a student makes in their school and personal life would become subject to the punishment of teachers and school administrators. If the student wins, then students’ freedom to do and say what they want off of campus will be secured from the scrutiny of school officials.
For millennia, it has been thought to be the schools’ right to treat their students whatever way they saw fit. Schools felt that punishing them was their inherent right as an educational institution. Schools feel that they, as guardians of students’ destinies, are entitled to tell first graders, undergraduates, juniors in high school, and all of us what are appropriate and inappropriate actions in our personal lives. Fighting for the right to punish us for our opinions and individual actions outside of school.
The lawyer defending the school has conceded that a ruling in favor of the school could give schools nationwide the ability to extend their disciplinary reach to even what students do during their personal lives. If this precedent is set, then I beg the question, will children and teens no longer be guaranteed freedom of speech? From now on, is it our perpetual state as students to live in total fear of what our schools will think of our opinions and thoughts? All too often, we have seen schools use the authority they don’t have to correct inappropriate behavior by students by dictating their thoughts and actions. A teen in New Jersey was removed from his virtual chemistry class for having a Trump flag in his background. Students have been kicked out of class for questioning religious policies. All of these examples are of school officials disciplining students for the mere expression of an opinion. If the government proposed punishing us for our Internet behavior, most people without a doubt would call that government authoritarian, but when a school punishes a student, it’s suddenly “discipline?”
Control, control, control. That is the fundamental issue with this debate. Nowadays, schools are seen as arbiters of justice for children. Some kid hit you? Tell the teacher. Did a kid call you a bad name? Tell the teacher. That is all fine to maintain fairness and order in the school, but expanding that authority is hardly necessary. Why must schools have the power to punish a child for something they did or said outside of school? Have the schools forgotten that it is not their job to raise children, but to educate them? The lawyer representing the Mahanoy Area School District said herself that the purpose of school punishment is to maintain an environment “conducive to learning” on school grounds. Now, what exactly is a kid’s post on TikTok or Snapchat doing to destroy that environment? The only justification for this degree of control would be if the school thought itself a literal arbiter of student justice. To be the ultimate disciplinary authority in a student’s life, 24/7. It has been observed that teachers and school officials tend to prefer authoritarian control over students as they found it to be the easiest way to control the school environment. If monitoring students 24/7 is believed to be the only way to maintain order in a school, then perhaps the very problem is the schools themselves.
What makes a school administrator, coach or teacher believe that it is perfectly fine to dictate what a child should say and do 24/7? Brandi Levy, in a moment of anger, recorded and posted a video using profanity. An action taken off-campus and affecting no one at the school, so on what grounds are there to punish her? The behavior of a child in their personal life is in the dominion of the parent alone, not in the hands of school officials. Schools seem to have forgotten that their role is not that of a parent or commander but as an educational institution. It is time that we forgo the narrative of schools being so-called arbiters of justice for children and make them be what they were always meant to be, institutions of education.