U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court agrees to hear First Amendment case of suspended cheerleader

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether a school district can punish students for off-campus speech.

The court agreed to decide the First Amendment issue in the case of a high school cheerleader in Pennsylvania who was suspended from the junior varsity squad for repeatedly using the F-word on Snapchat.

The cheerleader, identified as “B.L.,” used the word after failing to make the varsity squad, meaning that she would remain on the junior varsity squad. The post had pictured the cheerleader and a friend holding up their middle fingers with the text, “f- - - school f- - - softball f- - - cheer f- - - everything.”

School officials suspended the teenager from the squad for a year, citing cheerleading rules.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 1969 case that public schools can regulate speech only if it would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school. The case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, involved students suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Philadelphia broke with other federal appeals courts when it ruled that Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech, according to the cert petition filed by the Mahanoy Area School District.

SCOTUSblog and Bloomberg Law have coverage of the Jan. 8 cert grant, while the New York Times previewed the case Dec. 28.

The case is Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.

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