A Cheerleader’s Vulgar Message Prompts a First Amendment Showdown

Dec 28, 2020 · 779 comments
Jim (PA)
She made the online comment to 250 friends? Well there is the first problem; despite anyone’s wildest fantasies, nobody has 250 friends. She basically stood in the town square with a bullhorn and blasted her opinion to nearly anonymous passers by. Which, by the way, is her right to do no matter how badly the school administrators’ feelings were hurt. It’s not the school’s right to give her the boot. But if she is applying for a job with my company in a few years and I see this picture as part of the hiring committee, I will immediately move on to the next candidate. I have given the thumbs-down to numerous candidates after digging up social media posts that provide a window into their less-than-winning online personality. Online means forever, kids.
TRA (Wisconsin)
@Jim This is very well said, and points out the vast differences between a "right" to do something, as opposed to the consequences of doing said act. Freedoms are not absolute- Justice Holmes famously said that there is no "right" to yell FIRE in a crowded theater- and challenges to such important rights provide needed context to what is both appropriate and legal. Lastly, there is a common sense aspect to protected free speech that reminds us that having the mere "right" to do something is not necessarily the same as also being a good idea to do it.
Applejack (Albany)
@Jim This is why I don't use my real name on any social media platform. No one, without REALLY digging (and likely requiring an illegal level of it) would be able to find public, online statements made under my real name, because who knows what opinion of mine a potential employer isn't going to like. 99% of employers aren't going to through the trouble to hire a cyber investigator to uncover my hidden online activity. If I had children, this would be the advice I would give to them.
Liber (NY)
@Jim:Sir,well said.Noting that the "First Amendment" gives a lot of latitude.A consequence of social media expressing ones viewpoint, reveals real world pitfalls.
Robbie J (Victoria BC)
I think the USA needs to re-evaluate freedom of speech. When I moved to Canada a few years ago, certain things just aren’t okay to speak freely. e.g. The KKK can’t march in front of parliament. I’m okay with a little less free speech up here in the land of snow and Mounties.
Farfel (Pluto)
Empowering a bully. What great parents. Not.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
I came across the term "depraved indifference" yesterday, which has a specific legal meaning, but when our chief executive exercises golf while ignoring pain, death, and hardworking people going broke, and revels in the adoration of Qanon and the Proud Boys (et al.), he is acting as near as makes no difference to a sadist. This wannabe cheerleader, as the top commenter says, should not be held to a higher standard than the president.
Gail (Fl)
I will be shocked if the current Court isn’t unanimous in its decision to support free speech. One commenter says he wouldn’t hire someone with that media post. If he bases his hiring decisions on a comment made by an 8th grade girl then he must run a very closeted company.
Matt (Rome)
I’m sure your young staff have scrubbed their social media of all non-hate but distasteful speech. Probably right before stringing someone else up for it.
MB (U.S.)
Well I mean we're just preparing them for the workplace where corporations can terminate you without cause for what you say online.
rgl800 (Florida)
The First Amendment notwithstanding, what troubles me with this incident is that the wrong lesson being taught to the students by supporting this child's unsportsmanlike conduct. This child reacted badly to "losing" a place in a team sport. One of the goals of sports is to teach us how to compete, to win and to lose. These are things that help us to grow and function in a civil society. If this person is allowed to continue to participate in the sport because she won in court, then all the other students will learn that they are free to throw tantrums and be vulgar when they get don't get their way or lose as long as it is not on school grounds. Isn't this exactly why we are having so many problems today with say, oh the recent elections?
Dave Wildner (NYC)
Interesting that school administrators want to silence the free speech of students while allowing the schools employees to say whatever they want. We have seen, time and again, teachers invited involved in the violence in Portland and Seattle and they have never been punished by the schools that employ them. This kid voices her opinion off school grounds and is punished? Sorry, doesn’t work. Hold teachers to the same standard, after of course you have developed a standard, and maybe, just maybe, the school would have a leg to stand on.
Rik (Ny)
For most sports in high school you sign a code of conduct this clearly would have violated that at least the one that my son signed to play high school sports.
Impatient (Boston)
Accountability for one’s speech is not the same as banning free speech. This was a teachable moment. For both the young teen and the principal. But her right to say what she said is inviolate. Does this high school teach social studies or American history?
Susan Anderson (Boston)
Kids beware. None of this is private any more, and you will be held accountable later on when you've grown up. Stop "sharing" stuff you don't want on your record forever!
Eric (Planet Earth)
The idea that schools should have authority to punish Free Speech off of school grounds is ridiculous and terrifying. Thats it. End of story. if illegitimate crime is committed there are legal processes for that. otherwise it's clearly immoral, illegal, discriminatory and unconstitutional. No exceptions.
Bill (Pennsylvania)
This is a waste of taxpayers money. Period.
Change Face (Seattle)
Held the president accountable for the insults and over used of the first amendment to encourage racism, xenophobia, misogynies hate etc You name it, the guy that suppose to be held to the highest standard has been running naked and everybody laughing and enjoying it. Even wort all the GOP have been applauding him and encouraging to got even higher on his comments. If the man it is not accountable why everybody else should be
Loni (WA)
Regardless of anything else, it is the parents job to discipline outside of school! This is where the schoos grossly over steps. Schools are to teach the children reading, writing, arithmetic and sports if the parents so choose. I absolutely will not allow any school staff to discipline my children outside of school. With that being said, I absolutely support the staff if my child has done wrong at the school. But outside of that it is my responsibility, job and privilege to raise my children in all aspects. Including discipline.
RDK573 (Chicago)
In this situation, I think the courts can make a distinction between"free speech" and "distribution" of free speech. Whereas, the cheerleader has a first amendment right to make vulgar remarks and inuendos against school faculty and other students off school grounds, she does not have a right to distribute this speech to a forum where it can be accessed on school grounds. As soon as she posted her comments and vulgar signs on social media she engaged not only speech but distribution of this speech which can be accessed on school grounds. As such, I believe the school has a right to regulate and discipline students for things they post on social media that may be deemed harmful to the proper function and education of students.
Grant (Some_Latitude)
The distinction highlighted here is in-school vs out-of-school expression. But another distinction not mentioned is student out-of-school expression vs staff out-of-school expression. We read, not infrequently, of teachers or school administrators fired - or suspended - for their Facebook opinions. If they can be disciplined, can't students? Or is the age difference the key factor?
Jane (Durham)
Using social media safely ought to be added to the junior high school curriculum. Our kids have no freedom to make mistakes any more when it comes to online speech, as was proven here when a brief exclamation of frustration, which she likely thought would disappear, was captured forever by a screenshot. Not only should kids be worried about what schools and future employers might do, there is also shaming by the masses that seems to be increasingly popular.
C (N.,Y,)
The problem was brought to the attention of the school administration. They did nothing to address the issue. Nothing. It isn't that there was a perfect way to handle it initially, but the girl, with reasonably poor judgment for a 15 year old, was not given any guidance, and the black student, who brought to the attention of school staff, was essential given the message "live with it." Is THAT how this should have been handled?
Referencegirl (St. Louis)
This story wasn’t about the black student and the cheerleader. In this story, a female student wrote a Snapchat using swear words in reference to her school but did not specify the name of the school and write the snap while off school grounds on a weekend. She did not use hate speech. She was suspended from cheerleading for a year. She sued the school and won her case. This article is not about hate speech which should be treated differently. At any rate, you should read the article.
Anne-Marie Hislop (Chicago)
We're talking about a hurt 9th grader - an adolescent - lashing out with foul language in generic terms (i.e., not at named individuals). For heaven's sake, how did this get so big? If I was her mother, I'd be more than a little dismayed and angered that my daughter so publicly used that kind of language. I might consider whether she needed help learning to better manage her disappointments/hurts/anger. If she struck out at an individual student, then I'd see a case for bullying and more school involvement. If she had encouraged behavior by others or asked them to verbally attack someone, ditto. That said, I hope the SCOTUS takes the case AND I hope they rule in the kid's favor. She's a 9th grader! Let's not lose our heads!
Gabriel (Tyler, Texas)
Why should students get in trouble for posting and saying what they want? Every year of school I've been in my teachers say the same thing, school isn't a democracy it's a dictatorship. Now if the court actually makes it so that we can get in trouble for what we do outside of school that would confirm that the school system is a dictatorship.
Jeffrey (Cincinnati, OH)
This is merely a case study in what we've seen since covid started. Parents have relinquished so much of their duties to the schools. In this case, the girl's parents were not monitoring her social media, apparently let her use inappropriate language, and had not taught her good sportsmanship. However, the parents did have the time and money to pay for lawyers to take this court all the way to the Supreme Court. Practically what this has done has ensured that no university or employer will want to accept/hire this student. What could have been a small matter of not being on varsity is now a nationally reported SCOTUS case. In a time where acceptance committees and HR look at social media as part of the process, this student will not be known as someone who behaves badly and accepts no consequences.
Maura3 (Washington, DC)
In "olden days," if she had mimeographed (see dictionary) a sheet of paper with the same photo and curse words and plastered the sheets around town and inside her school, she would definitely have been suspended for a bit, done some sort of penance involving blackboards and erasures, and be reminded of "that hilarious day when..." at every one of her high school reunions forever after. The constitutional twist in this case could be that postings uploaded on mobile social media are not, technically speaking, "off school grounds." This case is just a Supreme Court skirmish. The First Amendment vs the cloud will be the judicial battle of the century.
Award Winning Teacher (Los Angeles)
A great administrator would have never chosen this fight, because it dose not appear to involve a threat to good order and discipline - particularly not with a freshman. They would have called the student in with her parents and explained that some people might see her language as a threat. Then they would say,"Well, you are new here and I'm going to let this slide, but if anything similar happens in the future and other students or staff feel threatened I will have to take tougher action." I have done that in almost identical situations and I never ended up in the Supreme Court! School administrators deserve wide latitude in terms of stamping down speech that even remotely alludes to violence, bullying, or intimidation. It is difficult running a school and it always has been. "The article of discipline is the most difficult in American education. Premature ideas of independence, too little repressed by parents, beget a spirit of insubordination which is the great obstacle to science with us and a principal cause of its decay since the Revolution." --Thomas Jefferson Nothing has changed, and in fact with helpful left wing groups like the ACLU, right wing busy bodies pushing for all sorts of zero tolerance, and the threat of school violence very real it might be worse. There is some chance that the administrator believed they did not have any choice. Preventing "chaos" seems like a defensible position, but the "team like attitude" I have to question.
Dave Wildner (NYC)
Have you taken a similar hard line approach with your staff? If/when they take part in speech that the school “doesn’t like” do you warn them and then discipline them?
J T (New Jersey)
At issue here is not the student's First Amendment rights, but the rights of a school to determine what vulgar actions directed specifically at the school, the team and cheerleading render one unfit to represent the school's team spirit and lead its cheers. What high schooler hasn't cursed some aspect of their school out of frustration and disappointment. There's much in school and life that doesn't go your way. Learning how to take rejection, including safe and responsible parameters for venting your feelings, is a vital part of growing up. But so is learning there are consequences for what we say and do, and understanding we shape the image others have of us. There is nothing more ephemeral about Snapchat than there is about an actual chat. Or for that matter a TV news appearance in the pre-YouTube era. To the contrary, saving a screenshot of a social media post is easier on the spur of the moment than transcribing an in-person conversation or recording live TV, and a Snapchat user should reasonably expect at least 1 in 250 to do so. If a school is forced to keep on its cheerleading squad a student who sent out a photo of them and a friend aggressively cursing out "school," "softball," and "cheer" (much less "everything") to 250 students, then cheer doesn't mean what I think it does. I do know the First Amendment means she can curse "school" one day and receive an education the next. But cheerleading isn't a right, nor, if that's how she feels, is it her reward.
Daniel Morris (Massachusetts)
At the rate we are going, free speech will be utterly dead in this country in a decade. Or less. This case is one more example of how we’re slipping into a totalitarian policing of all behavior brought on by the all-seeing-eye of internet surveillance and recording. If your speech much less your thoughts do not conform to the prevailing behavioral norm then the Puritans will come for you. An ephemeral Snap sent on a weekend is not the school’s business if it is not a threat.
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
@Daniel Morris - Yeah yeah, meaning I agree with your point, only the concept of 'over policing speech' has been around for thousands of years. However, the "Thought Police" are coming.
Michael Tyndall (San Francisco)
I give no credence whatsoever to whatever the manufactured conservative SCOTUS majority rules (unless 2 or 3 Dem appointees concur). They represent the stealing of multiple judicial nominations going back to the stolen Florida presidential election of 2000 (stolen by way of the Jeb Bush voter purges in addition to the misbegotten Bush v Gore decision). They represent a small fraction of the public and don't speak for most Americans. Until such time as the court is rebalanced, all their rulings should be considered highly suspect and temporary. Period.
Bryce (Illinois)
She deserved it. Just because she didn't make the team doesn't mean she should throw a fit and make vulgar messages about the school. She should have handled the situation in a mature way. Gotta be careful who you send your messages to - one of them showed the message to a school coach. It may have happened off of school grounds - Snapchat messages - but if you said some bad things about your job, you would probably get fired. I believe she was in the wrong.
Jon Harrison (Poultney, VT)
It would be sheer madness to allow schools to discipline students for speech off school grounds. The Court must take the case and clarify that we all still have 1st Amendment rights.
Ethan Allen (Vermont)
Unless what happens on social media is illegal, eg bullying, libel, etc., it is nothing to do with the school. Schools are not employers, and children are not adults. Pennsylvania taxpayers should probably question why their money is being used to try and exercise state control over their children’s out of school behavior.
A.L. Hern (Los Angeles, CA)
What a student may write or say off school property, as long as it doesn’t constitute a clear threat to an individual or property, is none of the school’s concern (were it defamatory, it would be a matter for a civil action on the part of the offended party, but is beyond the scope of this case). Were the Court to rule in favor of the school’s abridgment of student speech, it would create proverbial slippery slope as there would be nothing any student could so or say anywhere, at any time that would be protected from school administrators applying their own biases to student behavior. That’s not merely a slippery slope, but greased Teflon.
Jonathan Keller (Germany)
I‘m writing this from Europe and once again I am shocked how unfree the freest country of the world seems to bee. At all the people who want the girl punished: are you even aware that Snapchat is a private message like WhatsApp or apple massages ? If you start to restrict students for privat messages, in the long term you exclude people with alternative opinions from education. Of course, this will not be an immediate effect. However, if you make a decision to limit freedoms, and increase power of the state you must always ask yourself, whether you can allow this power also being in the hands of the worts government you can imagine. That’s a lesson history has given us several times. (The last time with Mr. Trump profiting from a title which is way to powerful for a democracy)
J T (New Jersey)
@Jonathan Keller Snapchat is only "a private message like WhatsApp" in the minds of those who buy into the marketing of that idea by those companies. Society's inability to address the antisocial aspects of so-called social media is on its way toward causing society's downfall. If this girl had made this vulgar expression about the respective entity personally to 250 people before a girl scout rally or a spelling bee or a beauty pageant—or an apprenticeship program or an after-school job or an honors society meeting—do you really think she would still be welcomed as not merely a member but a representative of those entities? This isn't about punishing this ninth grader. It's about punishing all public schools. If the Supreme Court rules that club membership in the junior varsity cheerleading squad at this public school must be returned to this ninth grader regardless of what vulgar gestures and expletive-laden rants she might send to 250 people against not only the school but the squad and the team, that would seem to mean public schools can't use extracurricular privileges like club membership to disincentivize antisocial acts and the bounds of acceptable behavior erode to the point that public school systems collapse. This is only a federal case because these are public schools, which like other public services (U.S. Post Office) are being sabotaged by Republicans. If this were a private school, the kid would be suspended from school, not just the club.
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
@Jonathan Keller - "Watch your mouth!" (Kidding)
S.Einstein (Jerusalem)
There is an inherent irony to consider that courts of judges, which are increasingly politicalized, who like the rest of US, range in human flaws, concerning judging and decision making, ranging in levels, types and qualities of legal training, understanding and experiences, will make a decision about WHAT, WHERE and for WHOM is expressing oneself permitted, forbidden, and perhaps even an obligation, in a divided nation led by personally unaccountable policymakers, in a rooted and nurtured violating WE-THEY cagily culture.
expat (Japan)
The use of "social" media should be restricted to those who are 18 and have a credit card that can be charged for violations of the rules of the forums they join, and their number of followers. The rest of us will continue to live happily without "social" media or its users in our lives.
S (Va)
I am reading so many comments that don’t understand what is happening in schools right now and the negative affects of social media. It really is naive. I used to believe in students ability to express themselves and they still can , in private, social media is not private it is BROADCASTING and needs to be regulated the same way as TV.
Randall (Missouri)
It is everyone's right via the 1st to speak their peace, and I'm glad she was given that confirmation there in court for the admistration (school) to take all in and back down. Unfortunately them appealing it is a sad exercise that will end in the same response I hope they know. Just because school now it's online vs in person, that Argument alone doesn't denote a change in one of the most paramount laws in our country that has been unchanged and unwavering. The schools only response to unruly children since they are at homes now via Skype and other means of communication, the respectful and admin responsible way to continue to have their classes not undermined my students would be to have the classes run on there by teachers (assume it is). And any of the offending students are politely removed and send a message along with some extra homework to think about their actions before next class, mabye something to have them present to class eh? The point is, she threw a fit. Online. It happens. But for the administration to think they could counter her class suit after a sad display of leadership there (by suspending student over a parent or aka the coaches opinion is sad ) One teachers right to free speech and opinion of a subject is trying to take away another free young americans rights.. how is that make sense, it don't.
S (Va)
This will open the flood gates.... schools have been holding students “in line” , unless parents step up, which is totally not going to happen. How this will affect corporations and businesses is also up for grabs.
Reader (Westchester)
Legal arguments aside, as a teacher I hope the court sides with the student for my own sanity. I already am responsible for so many things that used to be the responsibility of the community or the family. Schools do not have the time, resources and energy to monitor the behavior of students outside of school. I can understand schools being involved in cyber bullying, but that's it. If a threat is made, that is the responsibility of the police. And a note to parents- you do not have to let your fourteen year old have his or her own Snapchat account AND if your child has an account on any social media platform, you should be one of the people seeing all posts. It's ridiculous that we adults have not stood together and placed more limits on children's online activities.
Nick (Earth)
It bothers me more that this is just seeming like another case of SCHOOL being expected to do what PARENTS should. We’ve already taken sex, drugs, self-esteem, social consciousness, individuality, etc. off of the parents’ “to do” list in raising their kids, so I guess it won’t hurt to add freedom of speech to that list... However, knowing this country, people are going to be split right down the middle on this issue. I, personally, don’t agree with the school policing social media. If they’re going to use the rationale of “school is online because of COVID”, I say simply, the kids were there first... In conclusion, the internet, and social media in particular, has been the one “safe zone” for younger generations to express themselves to their full extent. In a world where bullying and passing judgment has become a pandemic in and off itself, for the past 20-25 years, the internet was the one place where people of ALL ages felt the power and confidence of being able to speak their minds without fear of repercussions. To all of a sudden take that away from people, the schools/courts not only leave them with absolutely NO place left to speak/express themselves freely, but they also impede on territory that’s been claimed for just that purpose for decades. Bottom line, it’s wrong for schools to start policing the internet because it’s really become kids’ last bastion of freedom for expressing who they truly are in a world that expects conformity more and more as they grow.
Douglas Hayward (London)
Agreed that it’s not the role of schools to police social media, at least where the school is not mentioned — but don’t forget that’s it’s precisely on social media where all this pandemic of bullying is happening.
Gizmos (Boston)
The school is not the US government nor even a state government. It can and should set its own rules for behavior on and off campus. It’s rules are set at the local level and can be addressed locally by vocal parents. Any chilling effect of this free speech punishment will likely disappear as soon as the student graduates. On the other hand flippant, flagrant, disrespectful behavior prompts the copycats and one-uppers. Perhaps there’s a claim of excessive punishment to be made, but first amendment problem, this is not.
Kelly732 (Seattle)
Hopefully the ruling will cover your work not firing you for what you post outside of work that is not about your work. I don't have that issue but it's disturbing to read about people who do, even though I rarely share their opinions.
Tom Wilde (Santa Monica, CA)
As if we needed further evidence showing the primary purpose of an extremely powerful institution of indoctrination is just that: indoctrination of the young, in the name of education, of course— —so that when we are finally turned out of this institution, we cannot even understand that "compulsory education" is one of the most grotesque (and dangerous) oxymorons ever put into mandatory practice by so-called educated societies around the world.
My 2 Cents (Northern Cali)
Yes, we have free speech. But free speech is not freedom from consequences. As a school administrator, I have spent countless hours supporting bullied students. Today, most bullying takes place online. I hope the court does not tie the hands of school administrators, as it will have a negative impact on our ability to keep ALL students safe. I have worked with kids who were on the verge of self-harm as a result of the cruel actions of their classmates, we must maintain this boundary! This is bigger than this spoiled cheerleader. Besides, cheerleaders represent the entire school, she lost that right when she held her public pity party.
fed up (las pulgas)
No mention of her school at the beginning of the article would have been most appropriate, as the of issue entirely revolves around it.
v (MA)
see.. thing is.. yeah, 1st amendment says there's cant be a law restricting what we say... it doesn't say that we are free from punishment for slander/hatred against an organization...
Craig King (Burlingame, California)
All this hoo-hah is over some kid not making the varsity cheerleading squad, and getting in trouble because she lashed out at the school on social media? Good grief. I could care less.
Brooklyn (CA)
I only know what the article said for this specific situation, but as a varsity coach and a public school teacher for 11 years here is my opinion: The athlete was mad she didn't make the varsity team. This happens every year at tryouts. It then sounds like the coach suspended her for a year from the team. Every successful coach I know has a player handbook or a set of behaviors they enforce w/ their players on & off the court or field. Coaches need to be given the authority to build a positive culture. If a coach sees behavior that is detrimental to the team as a whole, they need to be able to correct the behavior. If the behavior doesn't change, they should be given the authority to suspend or remove a player from the team. Being involved with an extracurricular sport such as cheer or softball is a privilege. Having access to a public education was not taken away. I'm assuming the coach had witnessed similar behavior before and decided they didn't want this type of player in their program. Then the school backed the coach. The player was never kicked out of school, only off the extracurricular team for a year. It is my opinion that coaches need to have authority to enforce a positive culture. They cannot be as successful at developing young adults if their hands are tied behind their back and they can't discipline their players.
The Woodwose (Florida)
I don’t like the language the student used, but I don’t think the school has an right to discipline her for it. In fact, anyone should be able to say anything they want on social media, without any consequences whatsoever. This is a free country.
Douglas Hayward (London)
So do you think bullying, threatening and slandering should be allowed? That’s not free speech, it’s aggression. But ... Surely the issue is where you draw the line, which should be done to protect free speech by preventing people using false claims of bullying etc to silence others (itself a form of bullying). In this case I think the school would be wrong to censor the girl, but it’s well within its rights to impose consequences on her for what she said.
themodprofessor (Brooklyn)
I am a high school teacher. Several years ago I found out that a student of mine posted on Twitter that he would like to punch me in my face. I went to the athletic director who wanted to go to the Principal. I said I didn’t want to get the kid in trouble and that we should handle it quietly and go to his coach. The student was asked about his comments and made to apologize. He wept like a baby. On the last day of school before graduation he came to my classroom to thank me and to apologize again. Never saw him again. Should he have been more severely punished? Would his being thrown off his teams or suspended from school have helped him somehow grow into a better person? I was satisfied in how this incident was dealt with. But I don’t know if every case could or should be be handled in the same way?
Aaron (Orange County, CA)
@themodprofessor That's an interesting question.. I suppose it depends on the disposition of the teacher as well as the student. In your case- What on earth did you say or do to him to make him post that in the first place? Let's start from there.. Remember the famous saying, "I too have a part to play."
themodprofessor (Brooklyn)
I taught him United States History. He passed my class with honors. But I am strict in the classroom. I didn’t let him and his friends talk during class. They didn’t appreciate that very much.
Jack D. Montana (Missouri)
She has reflected poorly on her school and her team. She has freedom of speech. She can say whatever she wants. Those hurt by it can also act as they will. they have the freedom not to associate.
Mike B (Ridgewood, NJ)
Be happy that kids can say what's on their minds because it only demonstrates the extent of failure in today's parenting and schooling. A failure underscored by the notion that SCOTUS can actually help them. By devolving this issue to a free speech fracas we ignore the root cause--but that's what we're good at--just another round of "kick the can."
Sam (San Francisco)
If schools cannot discipline students for their speech off campus, then it follows that schools have no power to intercede when a student is bullied (online or in person off the school campus). The schools must have some institutional power to deal with behaviors.
Lisa Walker (Santa Monica)
Whatever happened to-- talking it out? I suppose she would have gotten some sort of reprimand, in the past.
M.R. Sullivan (Boston)
She is not being denied an education. She has been denied an honor, a place on the JV cheerleader squad. She will not represent the school this year, and the students who are happy to have made the JV squad will be a better team without her. The volunteer coaches who selected the team have the right to a harassment free work place. She is free to speak, and the school is free not to have her speak for them. She can practice her cheers with her 250 friends.
DD (Klickitat County)
I can’t believe a girl would think she has the right to express her frustrations aloud! Her parents should have done a better job teaching her that a young woman ought to keep a stiff upper lip and stuff her feelings deep inside. /s
I (GR)
Ha....Ha....Ha.... that's funny. First amendment, free speech? You have got to be kidding, that hasn't existed for 15 years. The only thing that is changing is the retribution and punishments that are handed out for violations.
Kirk Bready (Tennessee)
Mostly I appreciate and indulge our uncontested right to simply ignore any nonsense we find disagreeable. I never thought much about it until POTUS #45.
Ricardo (Bridgeport)
I'm particularly curious about Justice Robert's and the "Bong hits for Jesus" decision. I went to a huge public high school in the 90's in Southern California, and we had a very relaxed dress code: no drug or alcohol references and no gang affiliated paraphernalia. Numerous students showed up with Spuds MacKenzie Bud Light shirts and would be ordered to either turn them inside out or tape over the Bud Light name. This was about drugs and alcohol and minors, as I would expect the use of the word bong is. There was never a peep about free speech. It seems that SCOTUS decision may not hinge on free speech but on minors and school dress codes?
Infynyti (Mpls)
I wanna know who that little narc was who immediately showed their mom, cuz a girl felt the need to vent? Jfc.
Randy (Kentucky)
Only lawyers and educators (not all of them, thankfully) can come up with lawsuits like the one described here. I hope the Supreme Court will finally adopt the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Avoid complexity. Don't get caught up in "ifs, ands, buts", ad nauseum. If a student sends a message while on school property or with a school-owned computer, allow the school to initiate disciplinary action --- if warranted! Otherwise, leave well enough alone. If a student's on- or off-campus behavior results in concrete harm to the school community, initiate adverse action. SCOTUS has more important fish to fry than situations like this one.
S (Va)
That is a nice thought, but the reality is that schools are doing the parents job, the parents aren’t going to do anything, so it will be a free for all and probably incite more violent reactions.
Eileen (Hoboken)
This is ridiculous. I think part of the reason it's happening is because she's a "nice" girl using vulgar language. Get over it.
Elinor (Seattle)
This girl was not kicked out of school, she was deprived the privilege of representing her school as a student athlete. There are a ton of rules related to the behavior of students who choose to participate in sports, music, and theater that are specifically tied to their participation in those programs. So, this case isn't about basic first amendment rights for high school students, it's about whether or not it is legal for students in special programs to be held to a higher standard than everyone else.
BK (Chicago)
@Elinor The Second Circuit agrees with you and the Third Circuit acknowledged that distinction in this case.
Peabody (CA)
If off-campus speech critical of a government agency is subject to managerial retaliation then we might as well move to Russia, China or Saudi Arabia. Retaliation for exasperation is tyranny.
The Dude (Bay Area)
@Peabody This isn’t what you are trying to make it out to be. She didn’t get kicked out of school - she got kicked off the JV cheer squad, which is the right of any coach to maintain team cohesion. This has nothing to do with Russia or authoritarian governments dictating what their citizens can or cannot say.
Alexander (Charlotte, NC)
This story-- along with many others-- grates on me because it describes what could easily just be shown-- the images in question.
Glen Guthrie (The Woodlands, Texas)
When I read this article, all I could think about was a petulant child who had never learned to lose and was lashing out at the world for not getting what she wanted (hmm, reminds me of somebody else we all know). Regardless of the minutia of her first amendment rights, this case did nothing but validate her behavior and the behavior of her parents, who should have properly punished her.....and made this a non-story.
The Dog (Toronto)
A line must be drawn between times when you have an obligation to an employer or school and those times that are your own to do with what you please. Would the school administrator like to be responsible for a student committing a crime outside of school? Should your boss be held accountable if you express a toxic opinion at home? It's the difference between a limited contractual obligation and owning people.
Social media has blurred what is private and public speech.
Autar Kaw (Tampa)
Free speech has consequences. This is a consequence and not breaking of the law. We have a few who just want to rant, rave and bully without consequences. Got to have a kinder world.
Skaid (NYC)
"Conduct Unbecoming a Cheerleader."
Jim Brokaw (California)
The question appears to be "How far out does the mind control extend?" from the direct area of the 'authority'. The question that should be of interest to most adults is this: once it is established that schools can control children's communications content even outside school, and even about things other than school... how long before employers can regulate the speech and actions of their employees, even away from work, and about things entirely unrelated to work. "Free speech" means just that - and if a school can control the speech of a student solely because the are a student, that is serious over-reach. What is the school teaching the children, then? This: "do as authority says, about everything, or you will be punished". So much for teaching 'critical thinking' and 'independent thought'.
S (Va)
They already do. Employers request your facebook pages.
Adam (Bethesda)
If I lived in this school district, would I want my tax dollars being spent to fight this case to the Supreme Court? How much of a raise for every teacher and paraprofessional in the district could these legal fees cover? If the district is paying for this case, then 1) Principal Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off has nothing on the people running this district, and 2) They have no right to cry poor the next time the issue of student-teacher ratios, or teacher pay is raised. Because they obviously have the money to take an administrator's power trip all the way to the Supreme Court. Is this really the most effective use of such dollars for advancing student safety and achievement? If the high court sides with the district, then I sure am glad I am not a high school student anymore.
Kristen (Boston)
I can't fathom that the school is reacting like this; it seems obvious that the school is out of line. It's very unfortunate that nobody is considering that this kid is in pain; the question at hand needs to be "How can we support our student in the face of difficulty and rejection, in such a deeply exhausting year?" rather than "To what extent are we legally permitted punish this student for making us look bad?"
William Starr (Nashua NH)
@Kristen "I can't fathom that the school is reacting like this; it seems obvious that the school is out of line." It's quite simple: there are far too many people in positions of authority who believe that the primary and most sacred rule of the universe is "Respect Authority." And when they feel that they have been disrespected, they become vicious animals.
Geoff (St Louis)
I dare say a fly on the wall in any high school hallway would hear exactly the same sentiments expressed by students. "I got detention for not doing my math homework. Curse math, Mr Smith, detention" etc.. That it is uttered out of earshot of any adults doesn't mean it's not said. Furthermore, every adult in HS education should be fully aware that these sentiments will be/are expressed. That it was done on social media is perhaps unfortunate but not something for a circuit court, much less the Supreme Court.
Joe (Los Angeles)
Maybe the many students who are angered by their schools would respect their schools more if those schools would keep their noses out of student's personal correspondence and personal off-campus activities.
Shamrock (Westfield)
I hope the readers don’t take the “speech” element too far. I remember lawyers on Court TV saying Martha Stewart couldn’t be prosecuted for her comments.Obviously they were seriously mistaken.
judith loebel (New York)
@Shamrock Martha Stewart was not *prosecuted for her comments*. She was prosecuted for insider trading and lying about it to the SDNY. If she hadn't bragged about it to a friend, who knew that as a former stock broker Stewart knew better, she may have escaped detection. James Comey covers this in his book.
BK (Chicago)
@Shamrock They haven’t read the appellate court’s decision here and the nuances described in the other cases it referenced.
Shamrock (Westfield)
My only question is the following: is her “punishment” sufficient enough to say her constitutional rights were violated? Not allowed to be a cheerleader? Nobody has a right to be a cheerleader. We had people kicked off sports teams in high school for smoking and drinking off school grounds. Is this interfering with her educational opportunities? I was cut from the varsity basketball team. Did I have my educational opportunities infringed upon?
William Starr (Nashua NH)
@Shamrock " Not allowed to be a cheerleader? Nobody has a right to be a cheerleader. " But everybody has a right to not be wrongly deprived of exactly the same opportunity of being a cheerleader as any other student. And saying something *on her own time* that somebody in the school administration didn't like is absolutely a wrong reason.
BK (Chicago)
@William Starr She didn’t simply state something that the school didn’t like. She bashed and disrespected her team. No, there is not a Constitutional right to be a cheerleader.
Brewster’s Millions (Santa Fe)
Two similar articles in two days. The common denominator? You guessed it. Cheerleaders.
Carter O'Brien (Chicago)
This principal will be lucky if the student doesn't file a countersuit for harassment. As if profanity is anything unusual in the United States, give us a break!
BK (Chicago)
@Carter O'Brien What do you mean by a countersuit? The student’s parents filed the lawsuit here.
Carter O'Brien (Chicago)
@BK Wrong terminology, mea culpa. But I think you know what I meant - this principal stepped *way* out of their lane and this could easily be interpreted as harassment, because it is. A halfway decent lawyer should be able to make that case.
Josh (Atlanta)
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech but does not guarantee there will be no repercussions for what you say. I agree that here the circumstances don't rise to the level of a Supreme Court case, I don't think we should be teaching high school students that they are free to say anything they want on social media (i.e. mass communication) and not expect possible repercussions.
Steve B (St Paul, Mn)
Slippery slope there. One persons opinion is another ones trigger.
William Starr (Nashua NH)
@Josh Yes, speech will have repercussions. The question is, in this case were the repercussions lawful?
H Munro (Western US)
The whole thing about punishing people for comments made on social media if fraught anyway. Admissions get rescinded, scholarships are also taken back. I can see the point of punishing speech that would be punishable in a social context: shouting fire and etc. But though speech made using social media is written down, that doesn't make it considered, it doesn't make it journalistic. It's still social speech and people will make mistakes. The appropriate use of social speech to shine light on character is when public speech and private speech conflict at the same moment in time. Punishing speech is contrary to our interests when it becomes a disincentive for a person's change for the better. I mean what is the point of marching for change, calling for change, advocating for change if we aren't going to acknowledge people will change and if we aren't going to allow for that change?
H Munro (Western US)
The whole thing about punishing people for comments made on social media if fraught anyway. Admissions get rescinded, scholarships are also taken back. I can see the point of punishing speech that would be punishable in a social context: shouting fire and etc. But though speech made using social media is written down, that doesn't make it considered, it doesn't make it journalistic. It's still social speech and people will make mistakes. The appropriate use of social speech to shine light on character is when public speech and private speech conflict at the same moment in time. Punishing speech is contrary to our interests when it becomes a disincentive for a person's change for the better. I mean what is the point of marching for change, calling for change, advocating for change if we aren't going to acknowledge people will change and if we aren't going to allow for that change?
Bettie White (Arkansas)
I agree they were way out of their jurisdiction prudence and actually are trying to Parent Students after School hours. The courts cannot approve this action at all, What will be next they suspend Students who stay up past 11 PM on a School night.
David_60 (Austin, Texas)
OMG If we were all held accountable for the things we said or did in high-school, who would be left standing? "Let him who is without sin throw the first stone." Could this not have been handled with a quiet discussion with the school and perhaps some sort of reprimand? Did this literally have to become a Federal case?
BK (Chicago)
@David_60 The school could have handled the matter differently, but her parents chose to sue the district. So sure, they thought it had “to become a Federal case”.
rgl800 (Florida)
@David_60 The parents filed the lawsuit. The school suspended her from cheerleading for one year which is their right. She exhibited unsportsmanlike behavior. She did not just spout off to her friends in the hallway, she posted on snapchat for 250 friends to see and presumably sympathize with her. We are living in a new world of social media and I don't think that are laws have caught up with that. By the way, that fact that her parents supported her bad behavior to the extent of filing suit instead of teaching her about consequences and how to behave reinforces my belief that she deserves the suspension.
Chip (NC)
As long as the school is public, and had any government funding, then it has no right to punish this student. That is the whole point of the 1st amendment, it allows freedom of speech without fear of government reprisal.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Chip Could they punish her for smoking and drinking? DUI? Hate crime? Battery? All of those things can happen off school grounds.
judith loebel (New York)
@Shamrock All of those come under criminal codes already. First Amendment is not a criminal code, nor should mere speech be interfered with by schools just because they dislike being made to look foolish by a student. What are they teaching with this action??
BK (Chicago)
@Chip The appellate court stated otherwise in its decision here. Schools do have the authority to regulate off campus speech.
K. M. Peterson (Boston)
Is it just me, or does anyone else find this: ‘The school suspended the student from cheerleading for a year, saying the punishment was needed to “avoid chaos” and maintain a “teamlike environment.”’ eerily similar to the wording that Chinese authorities use to enforce censorship regulation? Perhaps the phrase “avoid chaos” carries freight from a previous Court decision, but it seems a very weak argument for a first amendment case this sweeping.
Robert M. Stanton (Pittsburgh, PA)
Outside of school high school students should have the same first amendment rights as the rest of us.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Robert M. Stanton They didn’t kick her out of school. Just saying. This is barely enough to use the word punishment.
William Starr (Nashua NH)
@Shamrock A right -- to have exactly same opportunity to be a cheerleader as an identical student who did not, off campus and on her own time, say something that a school administrator disapproved of -- was taken away from her. That was wrong.
Philip (Michigan)
@William Starr extracurricular activities are not a right they are privileges. As soon as they become a right, teams will no longer be able to cut students from teams based on any other reason (including preformance).
Linda (NY)
As others have observed, words and actions can have consequences. Seems to me that the punishment may also have been due to the example this student was setting for others at the school. The student in question, a cheerLEADER, was someone other students may have been expected to look up to and even emulate. While the actions described are reminiscent of another more well known 'leader' they are hardly worthy of emulating. If you're "having a bad day" square your shoulders, smile and move on. Don't grow up to become the next Donald Trump. The world can't take more than one.
mjc (Indiana)
I hope the SCOTUS takes the case. I'll be anxious to learn how the justices respond.
drDont (San Diego, CA)
While it may not be desirable for a pre-teen or teen student to be using cuss words, allowing School to monitor and punish verbal or written speech, esp outside of school, makes me think of the Thought Police. And who is to decide what is objectionable? Is "Tuck Frump" any less objectionable than the alternative? If a student reads Catcher in the Rye at home, while at school the book is banned...should she be disciplined? (of course not) If a child is in their own home, talking to their parents or siblings and a visitor records the conversation which is peppered with cuss words and turns it in at school...should the child be disciplined from what was expressed in private? (of course not) Better to teach kids HOW to think rather than WHAT to think.
John the Grouch (Oregon)
This is more a lost opportunity for a teaching moment for the student involved and her peers. Children of her age, a freshman in high school is still a child, will often do outrageous things. Today they have opportunities to spread their anger and foolishness to a large audience by social media. Rather that taking immediate disciplinary action, wouldn't it be better for everyone involved to counsel the girl and perhaps have her explain why she made a mistake on the same social media that carried her angry, inappropriate words? We adults are supposed to be able handle our anger and disappointment when children misbehave; but yet we see that school teachers and leaders who often seem to jump immediately to discipline. Lets help these children learn rather that just punish.
Yvonne Kay (Kansas)
This should have never gone to court. The parents should have taken care of this. They needed to pull their daughter from junior varsity for the year. Hopefully, she would learn to be a lady by that time. The courts rewarded her for behaving badly.
Susan D (Quincy MA)
@ Yvonne Kay, are you implying that it would be ok if she were a boy? "Act like a lady," is a really sexist, old-fashioned term
Drusilla Hawke (Kennesaw, GA)
Isn’t there a big difference between a student’s simply venting her frustrations on a social platform and attacking, harassing, or bullying someone on the same platform? I certainly hope the SCOTUS makes a sensible distinction.
KJ (Tennessee)
Being a teenager was both terrific and a horror at various times decades ago when I was young. The bad parts would have been a million times worse under a public microscope.
Kerm (Wheatfields)
A governmental overreach, but I am still upset with all those Democrats over the dismissal of Al Franken from the Senate. Give us all a break, please?!!!
Maridee (USA)
While the student has the right to free speech, what is the desired outcome here? That the girl gets a spot on the cheerleading squad after all?
Robert J (Durham NC)
The school is run by fools. One year suspension and you get a lawsuit. Two weeks and you don't get sued. Stunning lack of judgment.
princedesparcs (New York, NY)
Dear NYT, Adam Liptak got around your conventions elegantly, but, my gosh, you're way overdue in updating your style manual to reflect that it's OK to use the word, particularly when it's the subject of a story (or, as in this case, ostensibly so). Your prudish mores are as frustrating as The New Yorker's predilections for umlauts, and nearly as dated.
Susan D (Quincy MA)
@princedesparcs, I agree about the use of profanity in context, but I have to say, I'm kind of a fan of the umlauts
4thHorsemanoftheConfederacy (the South)
He who sacrifices liberty for security deserves neither.
John Chastain (Michigan (the heart of the Great Lakes))
Well that comment was irrational nonsense devoid of context or originality. Just what one would expect from a fanboy of the confederacy. Interesting isn’t it that the ACLU, that bugaboo of conservatives everywhere is the organization defending this young women’s right of free speech against the conservative prudes of her controlling oppressive “southern” school district eh.
M Ford (USA)
Where did all of the civil rights leaders go? When I was growing up, we had civil rights leaders, people that advocated the maintenance and expansion of basic human rights like the freedom of speech. Today, it seems like the Democrats want to restrict free speech, especially on the internet and there are no civil rights leaders to protect us. When I do see the phrase "civil rights leader" in modern day times, it is used to describe someone affiliated with the Democrats that is in favor of restricting our civil rights. Hence, a modern day civil rights leader is depicted as supporting limits on gun ownership, limits on free speech and limits on how business owners can run their businesses. Therefore, I take issue with the leadership of modern day civil rights leaders and the direction in which they are leading us.
Bashh (Pa.)
@M Ford This young woman goes to school in coal country which is prime territory for Pennsylvania Republicans. Do a little research before you spout off about Democrats. Trump won 69% of the vote here. Is it any wonder the high school kids think it is OK to trash talk. Legal it might be, but even in Mahanoy, Pa, a failing coal town, it is not appreciated and has consequences. She has a legal right to say what she wants. She has no legal right to be a cheerleader.
Bronco Pete (great midwest)
I have been in the school house in one capacity or another for about 25 years. This thing sounds dicey. When it comes to education, as the Tinker case claims, the protest can't materially disrupt the educational process. I came of age shortly before computers and cell phones became wide spread and the school policy book has grown four times during since. Clarification is most needed.
M (Michigan)
I am starting to notice the "butterfly effect" related to the "lack" of leadership at a national/state level. Let's hope we can reverse this soon.
Just Me (California)
If a statement has the same impact as if the child was at school, then the person should be held accountable. Free speech doesn't mean free of consequences. Just because she did it off campus doesn't lessen the offense. She put that finger on blast for all to see. If the impact is the same, then she should be held to account.
Carol (Toronto)
I would think this might be determined on a case by case basis. If a group were bullying a classmate but doing it all on-line outside of school, would this be acceptable. I a bunch of yahoos were denigrating Muslims or black classmates on-line and out of school but it was affecting the students would this be acceptable. I prefer Canada's version of Freedom of Expression which allows reasonable limitations on freedom of speech if those limits are prescribed by law and can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Examples of limits would be hate speech, obscenity and defamation. Supreme Court is the ultimate referee.
Peggy (West of the Mississippi)
The school ought to just drop cheer as an activity. I know I wouldn't want to be the teacher stuck being this young lady's cheer coach. Please note that being suspended from cheer was her only punishment.
Xander (Usa)
And with this schools would rather HARM the childrens education further because they cant handle a problem proporly....now its come to people taking someones feelings into the wrong context and everyone wonders why kids bottle up there feeling and dont want to open up and then they become depressed and end up with suicidal thoughts all because there afraid to say how they feel already and now they cant express how they feel anywere els
Lefthalfbach (Philadelphia)
The Supremes, f they take the case, will rule for the kid but on narrower grounds, than did the Third Circuit. Having said that, the young lady seems a bit immature. However, that is not unconstitutional.
Craig Willison (Washington D.C.)
Thank God there was no digital social media when I was in high school 55 years ago.
Wolfy (Soapbox)
She didn't simply speak. By going online with the material, She published and distributed.
Mandy (Florida)
Your statement implies Snapchat is a publication platform rather than a social media platform. Should students not be allowed to curse in Facebook posts? Tweets? This is a terrible overreach.
Alanster (Minnesota)
>>> "She published and distributed." Another protected activity. Read the 1st Amendment again.
BK (Chicago)
@Alanster You should learn what case law is. Your comment is irrelevant to what the other commenter wrote. There’s a reason that SCOTUS has had to rule on First Amendment cases.
baldski (Reno, NV)
So, why do people get fired from their jobs for expressing their opinions on facebook? Why is that different?
Alanster (Minnesota)
@baldski: It's different because public schools are government entities and are bound by the provisions of the 1st and 14th Amendments and associated case law.
Eric Lentz, Esq (Short Hills, NJ)
An out of school statement, is protected speech. To rule otherwise would have a chilling impact on the First Amendment This was a private statement which was taken from one student private e-mail. The school has violated the student’s right of privacy, speech and thought
Margie Moore (San Francisco)
Society is perennially conflicted about children's right to freedom of speech . Schools and parents can ID the comment as a "sticks and stones" remark and invite the perp to "come on out and play in the mud." Then adults should go on to other, more adult business. A one-on-one with an adult official is often effective. Save the heavy artillery for REAL offenses involving actual physical menace or threatening verbal abuse. School children are not yet ready to be judged by the Constitution.
MAX (Oregon)
This whole thing with people getting in trouble or losing a job for what they say or do on (THEIR OWN TIME ) is getting really old. If you do not want to see or read what someone else says or posts on any site, then don't read it or be friends with that person We have way too many thin skinned people in this world now
SM (Brooklyn)
From the Third Circuit’s decision: [Team and school rules require] cheerleaders to “have respect for [their] school, coaches, . . . [and] other cheerleaders”; avoid “foul language and inappropriate gestures”; and refrain from sharing “negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches . . . on the internet.” Refrain from sharing negative information? Talk about Orwellian overreach. https://www.eff.org/files/2020/07/14/2020-06-30_bl_v_mahanoy_3d_cir_opinion.pdf
Tony (New York City)
If Communist China can regulate what you read and write we should be able to also. Every library. museum and public space must be purged of capitalism. The State must regulate all speech and punish those in violation or send them to re-education camps.
Jake Vehige (Columbia, MO)
This is approximately 1/1,000th as clever as you think it is.
Tony (New York City)
@Jake Vehige I've lived in Beijing and there are no people running around with guns. People have many more rights in China because the trouble makers are dealt with not to poison the collective. The filth of the West is not allowed.
marie miller (ca.)
The Supreme Court long has recognized that non-verbal gestures and symbols may be entitled to First Amendment protection. See Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, (holding that wearing a jacket which contained a four-letter expletive criticizing the draft is protected by the First Amendment); In Spence v. Washington, 418 U.S. 405, the court upheld the act in question noting "(I)t was a pointed expression of anguish." In this case a student failed to make varsity cheer. "The student expressed her frustration on social media with an image of the student and a friend with their middle fingers raised, along with text expressing a similar sentiment. Using a curse word four times, the student expressed her dissatisfaction with “school,” “softball,” “cheer” and “everything.” I would stipulate the teen should learn to vent more in line with societal dictates. But I would caution against arbitrarily curtailing freedom of speech. China just sentenced Zhang Zhan to four years in prison for trying to warn us what was going on in Wuhan, China, during the early days of covid. Zhang was was officially convicted for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," a vague charge often brought against critics of the government in China. Under the circumstances of these cases, venting how one feels about school or governmental actions falls within freedom of expression protected by our constitution.
koyaanisqatsi (Upstate NY)
If not being selected to the varsity cheer team is this girl's idea of a "bad day," she is in for a rude awakening. Life can and will treat her far worse than that. And you can argue that life did just that when she was suspended for 1 year from cheerleading. Lesson learned? I guess not. Protesting the Vietnam War is not remotely similar to vulgarly attacking one's school on social media. Just about any college or pro sports team would suspend and/or fine a player for similar behavior. But what do I know--I don't do Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or any social media. And I don't understand the fascination with social media.
Alanster (Minnesota)
>>> "Just about any college or pro sports team would suspend and/or fine a player for similar behavior." Everything you have written is irrelevant. Public schools are government entities and they are bound by the Constitution, including the 1st and 14th Amendments.
Philip (Michigan)
@Alanster This would and has happened to athletes at public universities where participation and admission is a privilege. Just like interscholastic extracurricular activities such as high school cheer.
Sean (Ft Lee. N.J.)
Lawsuit stifling student's off campus free speech despicable tactic; true reason district filing: avoiding monetary damages.
BK (Chicago)
@Sean The parents sued the school district.
Shawn (Maryland)
The school has no business punishing them for this....no incitement no racism or threats....just young kids disappointed that they did not make the team....they were home...school controls their behavior from morning until 3:30...these girls should be free to say what they want....if the parents ground the girls fine....but no not the school....1st why is the school looking at their social media....2nd if they don't win this case in SCOTUS that's a threat to all of our free speech...this was a simple maybe tantrum by k8ds who were upset...none of schools business...family situation...can parents ground them yes...should school punish them at all? Of course not that's the school monitoring them when they are home...very scary precedent if SCOTUS does not side w the girls....
Alanster (Minnesota)
>>> "1st why is the school looking at their social media. . ." Because a fellow student whose parent is the cheer coach shared a screen grab of a "snap" that would otherwise have disappeared with Mom, who retaliated against the teen. She was punished because she was ratted out to an adult who didn't act like one -- by a snitch who is the one deserving of punishment (by parents, not the school).
BK (Chicago)
@Alanster So there’s your issue here. It’s the snitch. She deserves punishment from her parents for sharing information with adults? Cheesus. I don’t like that the other girl snitched, but punishing her is absurd.
They didn’t mention in the article what the school athletic policy is. I have teens in athletics and whether or not they remain on the team if they do xyz is at the discretion of the coaches. If you don’t make a particular team, there’s a reason. Instead of perpetuating entitlement, the parents need to explain that you’re not going to make every team, but always try your best and maybe you will. Spots on teams are earned, not randomly given out. A kid is not entitled to a spot on JV or varsity. The lesson shouldn’t be that a kid vents on social, gets in trouble, and mom/dad step in. The lesson needs to be: try to be a better person, think before you vent on social, screenshots live forever, and your reputation is important. Free speech does not equal speech without consequences. How you conduct yourself means something in sports, at work, and whatever you do in life. People seem to miss this point.
farm441 (New York)
XKCD Freedom of Speech said it best.
Mr Independent (US Of A)
I love that I can look anything and everything up from nearby places to eat, how to fix my dishwasher to winning a bet about Kafka (which would never have been possible because it would have required going to a library and then making photocopies and then presenting it to my friend, who, likely would probably have thought me a total jerk for going to that extent to prove it). But the social media...that makes me wonder if the trade off is worth it. Things that someone might tell one or two friends now goes viral thanks to some jerk forwarding it on and what would have meant nothing twenty years ago becomes an article in The NY Times. Social media is a scourge. If we can’t do away with it completely—I think we have minimum ages to be on it like alcohol.
There are minimum ages to be on every platform but show me a kid who doesn’t lie about it to join. We can’t regress from social media at this point. Parents need to have a better understanding of it and explain the possible consequences to their kids. Some of it is basic common sense: screenshots live forever, what you think only your followers/contacts are seeing is probably being passed around, nothing online is private, and there’s always that one person who will tell on you. Act accordingly.
Fuzair (NY)
All the people defending the student and criticizing the school seem to be ignoring the fact that the student was kicked off the cheerleading squad by a cheerleading coach. Presumably this is not a free speech issue but a coach and the school disciplining a disruptive squad member. And it was disruptive as far as the squad is concerned. My daughter had to sign a 'team code of conduct' contract before she was allowed to play. So presumably did this girl. So why is this being treated as a free speech issue?
Alanster (Minnesota)
>>> "So why is this being treated as a free speech issue?" Because it is a free speech issue. The school is a government entity and the coach is an agent of government. Both the entity and the agent are bound by the Constitution. Do you really think the case would have moved through the federal courts (with the appeals court finding that her rights were abridged) if it were *not* a free speech issue?
Gary (Albuquerque)
What are the consequences of exposing teens/minors to libel? The Supreme Court better stand ready for these suits.
Pablo (Down The Street)
She would have been better to go old school and trash the campus and set the dumpsters on fire ninja style.
AmyF (Phoenix, AZ)
Total overreaction from the school. So a kid said something stupid about the school, like that’s never happened before. The only issue is that it was filmed and therefore will exist for a very long time. I’m so glad I grew up before social media!
Mark (Idaho)
It seems to me that a key related point is whether the out-of-school free speech applies to a "school", per se, which is an organization, versus that same free speech if it is directed at or about (a) named individual(s) either employed by, or subject to the protections of the school, such as individual students. Further, is/are the restrictions imposed by schools a function of school district policy and guidance or of the dictates of the school administrator?
As a parent, I totally disagree with the lower courts decision. I hope SCOTUS sides with the school on this one. There are consequences for your actions. You didn’t make the squad. Deal with it. Kids are taught this from an early age now- DO NOT POST ANYTHING THAT CAN GET YOU INTO TROUBLE- it NEVER goes away. I’m a liberal, open minded person- but life is all about character building experiences - and this girl (and any future student who decides to post racist and offensive actions and words) needs to understand that actions have consequences.
Yes. This.
Steve (Texas)
As long as she was not on a school website or server, her comments should be protected by First Amendment. It would be nice if everyone's First Amendment Rights were clearly protected.
R (a)
nope, nope, nope. this is EXACTLY the type of speech the first amendment is meant to protect.
Julie Higgs (Melbourne Australia)
Membership of the cheerleading squad is a privilege, not a right, so the school’s reaction to the student’s Snapchat post did nothing to violate the girl’s rights.
Joy (Home)
Yes, the girl does have 1st amendment rights. However, the school didn’t punish her by suspension, detention or expulsion. They removed her from an extra-curricular activity, which is voluntary. In my experience with school activities, you are considered a rep of the school and are expected to conduct yourself as such at all times. Failure to do so is grounds for dismissal from the team. So while she is within her right to do what she did, the school is within their rights not to have her as a representative.
TylerBarkley (Washington, DC)
In a democracy schools are going to have to be able to tolerate the critical speech of its students outside of campus. Stifling critical voices is an overreach into these young adults constitutional rights. You don’t habe to agree with what they say, but they darn have the right to say it. This is what makes America so special from the rest of the world. Freedom.
Robert L (RI)
Snapchat messages are not as ephemeral as we thought they should be...( a childish mistake...) That the school after the fact disciplines the child is in fact an attempt ; at least in part to protect all of the schools students ... she may revel in her Freedom of speech in the moment ... But what happens when she is applying to various Colleges in a few years and her images of "dissatisfaction " appear before the acceptance committees of her favored Universities... I suspect her and her parents may want to find a place to express their dissatisfaction with the "schools" and “everything” and maybe even her "Freedom of Speech"
Speaktruth Topower (Ny)
...and what about locker room talk? Is that censored?
MimJohnson (New York, NY)
Folks -please note this case involves a public school (a governmental entity) disciplining a student for social media speech conducted off premises, so it falls within the purview of the First Amendment. In addition, the erstwhile cheerleader's rant does not threaten any person or entity nor did it disparage a racial, ethnic, religious or other group. It appears this matter seems ripe for the Supremes to delineate the scope of the government's authority to penalize off-site speech in the context of public schools.
David (Albuquerque)
@MimJohnson I truly hope this is what happens. Every school has bullying and harassment policies that school officials are supposed to enforce. Social media posts can be seen by everyone on and off-campus. Everything is left to the judgment of the administrator and the school context.
CM (Rochester)
Is it too old fashioned to think we should take responsibility for our bad behavior.
BK (Chicago)
@CM No. It’s better to take the Trump way and litigate everything.
Sean (Ft Lee. N.J.)
@CM Legally mandating idealistic aughts unconstitutional.
David (Albuquerque)
I think it is clear that the school overreacted in this case. However, where is the line? Schools are often called upon by their communities to police the online behavior of students. Teenagers post all kinds of offensive material on social media. As it stands now, schools really don't know which online actions can be punished by the school and which can't. The Supreme Court could offer some needed clarity.
Trevor (Gulfport,MS)
So, two things about this. Congratulations to this girl as far as expressing her opinion with zero regard as to what was going to happen. However, all actions have consequences. All schools have a code of conduct regarding student athletes (and yes cheerleading is a sport). The code of conduct applies in and out of school. At least it always has in my home town in which I participated in both cheer as well as traditional sports. The actions taken against this student are not unusual in content but rather in duration. Generally, I would imagine that a season would’ve been long enough to get the point across. Besides, this is not a violation of her right to express herself but a firm response to her actions. We all have a right to our opinions but again you must be prepared to accept any consequences that are delivered as a result. We try so hard to make our schools responsible for the moral upbringing of our children but then chastise them for holding them responsible for their mistakes... Teach your kid to not be rude... Teach them that losing is a part of life... Don’t teach them that they can sue their way to the moral high ground.
Adam (Vancouver)
People need a bit more perspective. A child had a bad day and was grumpy. She needs to be told that this is not acceptable behavior and then everyone needed to move on. American culture tends to legalize everything at the cost of developing emotional intelligence. We are seeing the consequences in the political realm. The school overreacted and lost the opportunity of a teaching moment. Now, she will keep this attitude toward the school forever.
Sean (Ft Lee. N.J.)
@Adam Speech countering morally acceptable social mores, transmitting element often ostracized but public based legal judgement imposing sanctions unconstitutional.
Michael (Boston)
If the school administration is this authoritarian and humorless, perhaps they should consider a new career path, like parking enforcement officers.
Guy Baehr (NJ)
First they came for the children, then they decided we were children too...
JimB (NY)
She expressed her frustration and anger. I mean it's not like she said there was "fraud" involved or that the selection was "rigged" and that there was a "conspiracy" to keep her off the varsity squad. She didn't even threaten to sue or demand a recount or question the impartiality of the coaches.
robert (reston, VA)
If songs are labeled with an E to indicate explicit content, maybe postings should be so treated? Otherwise, the school has no right to muzzle the student who is merely venting.
Marielle (Detroit)
Out of school for that expletive, others who use the "n" word religiously in some school settings are rarely even cautioned. Perhaps it was more about the power structure and who it was directed at.
Sally smith (NC)
In my time, we too cussed and fussed about school stuff. We were pretty immature and nasty at times. The difference is that administrators didn't know about it or have visual proof of it. The school also missed such an opportunity to use this as a teaching moment. If the adults involved had behaved like adults and had a civil discussion about constructive ways to express anger, and about how social media is forever, this might never have gotten to this point. Whatever happened to sitting down and talking through problems?
Sam (Iowa)
When did this country become so prissy that the use of curse words is more offensive to some people than violence is?
Caligula (Texas)
At some point we need to fight to keep our rights of free speech. I just hope it isn’t already too late.
Todd Bolton (Takoma Park MD)
Roberts limited the "bong hits for jesus" because he thought it insulted how religion, no other reason. That part of the first he will protect, the speech part, not so much.
Patricia Cross (California)
When will some people learn to gracefully lose. Accept the loss, move on, and try harder next time. This will not be her first loss in life — there are lessons to learn that can build resilience, teach one how to work harder, and ultimately build character for greater success in the future. Life is not perfect.
john (toronto)
Retired secondary principle here who worked in three challenging Toronto schools. This is so over the top, I cannot begin to describe the many problems with the admin response. When I started as a VP the principal wisely stated to me: You must maintain order and tone in the school, but above all remember that schools are places of EDUCATION, not PUNISHMENT. That bit of wisdom guided me when I was required to address a disciplinary situation, of which there were hundreds. This is painful to read and so completely unnecessary. I hope the kid wins.
RSM (Philadelphia)
The young student doesn’t win an appeal from me - nastiness and disrespect should be punished first then rewarded later.
RSM (Philadelphia)
Sixteen years old is the cut off- under that and you ought to have your mouth washed with soap and sent to your room. Over 16 and you must accompany your father for waffles and ice cream.
Richard Ray (Jackson Hole, Wyoming)
@RSM Perhaps, but *not* by the school. Public schools do not operate ‘in loco parentis’.
John (USA)
The thing that gets me about this whole situation is the girls attitude. Sure, she’s entitled to her opinions and expressions but if she would have just excepted not making it on the team and try to make it again in the future there would not be an issue. It just strikes me as a person so full of them selves they can not except failure and that is such a poor sign of character and all too common in these modern times. The genteel times are over and I personally find it sad and empty feeling.
HRD (Iowa)
@John She was 15. Most 15-year-olds are full of themselves and full of angst. An eye-roll and little chat about embarrassing herself to 250 snapchatters would have been more than enough response.
BK (Chicago)
The reasoning of the majority here appears to be that a student has a right to say whatever she wants away from school, as long as there is no threat of harm, and the school has no right to remove her from an extracurricular activity as a result. So if this student by chance saw her coach away from the school, like at a restaurant, and told the coach that she is terrible and has no business coaching anyone, you believe the coach and the school have no right to remove her from the team? Many here have made it clear that they would not limit speech without consequences by the school to words used in the privacy of the student’s home.
Alanster (Minnesota)
>>> "Many here have made it clear that they would not limit speech without consequences by the school to words used in the privacy of the student’s home." Not only many here but our Constitution and about 230 or so years of case law make it entirely clear that freedom of speech *is not limited* to words used in the privacy of one's home. Sheesh.
BK (Chicago)
@Alanster Sheesh. I’m glad I don’t have kids given the tolerance for disrespect and the entitlement of participating in sports.
Alanster (Minnesota)
@BK: With respect, I'm glad you aren't a judge
Larry Jones (Alabma)
She has a constitutional right to free speech absolutely. But she does not have a constitutional right to be a cheerleader. I think the school is well within their right to suspend her.
Todd Howell (Orlando)
I side with unlimited freedom of speech, but try that just a few years forward and her employer will have zero patience, and zero tolerance.
Joe (South Carolina)
My favorite part of this is the school needs to know what their rights are to discipline a child for their behavior outside of school. NONE! The last time I checked that is the job of parents and the justice system depending on what they do. The only time they should have of campus power is on a sanctioned field trip or athletic event. I should hope the SCOTUS puts the final nail in this coffin.
RSM (Philadelphia)
I disagree and feel teachers should be free to dispense their best advise or admonishments. We trust our teachers because they are professionals and are paid to teach just like we trust the police with our safety. Too many parents are eager to condemn teachers when they should be supervising their children.
LarryAt27N (North Central Florida)
"...whenever a hateful message is launched from off campus.” School districts and boards often forget that students are their customers -- not their employees. Therefore they are free to make such remarks away from school.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
“There is at least one major area where Chief Justice Roberts’s defense of the First Amendment is notably lax: student speech,” and religion. The student's banner "threatened" Christian religion.
Tim (Melbourne , Fl)
God forbid you vent your frustration. As a parent I wouldn’t be happy and would handle it my way. Outside of School is my responsibility not the schools
It’s fine to vent your frustrations, but kids need to be aware that someone will always take a screenshot and share it. Snaps may disappear but screenshots live forever. They need to take a minute to think about who is in their Snapchat group because there’s always always one kid who is the tattler.
Speaktruth Topower (Ny)
Right, so since the adults in the room can’t figure this out the case ends up in the Supreme Court?!?
Lu (Florida)
Let's put this student's comments in perspective. First, if "she" were a "he", would the school have even cared what she did on her own time and unrelated to the school? I think not. I wonder what the male athletes say and do on their own time and nobody at that school raises an eyebrow. Second, if she were POTUS, how non-plused and unconcerned everyone would be about such lame comments in comparison to literally encouraging riots. That school needs to check itself on its motives.
LisaK (Ga)
Liars (politicians) in power do this everyday so what’s the problem with her?! She said what she said! Leave her alone!
matthew wodicka (san francisco)
This is why the right to free speech lies within the individual, and its permissibility is not contingent upon how it is heard or experienced by any objective observer. Framing the question in terms of the "impact" of the speech directly contradicts the conceptual framework of free speech legal reasoning.
L jackson (Richmond)
As a former cheerleader, we were informed that we were a representative for our school, at all times. We had to maintain our grade point averages, and be a role model. The students behavior should have warranted her being dismissed from the squad. Sad thing is, her comments only show who she really is.
BK (Chicago)
@L jackson You mean you weren’t allowed to say whatever you wanted about your team or coaches without any consequences? How quaint.
George (New York City)
I agree that this will be a very significant decision by the Supreme Court. The NYT did a major story yesterday focusing on a high school student who was reportedly forced by the University of Tennessee to withdraw from the freshman class (on the threat of having her admission withdrawn by the University) and was removed from their cheer team because of an ill considered word that she used to express her excitement about driving in a 3 second snapchat video which was circulated on social media by another high school student. This is madness. The cancel culture is bad enough when extended to adults and dead people but now it is being used vindictively by teenage high school students against each other. The First Amendment should absolutely be a line of defense for high school students to use to protect themselves from cowardly school administrators who are obsessed with political correctness. Assuming the Supreme Court rules in favor of the student in this case, the next case should be brought against the University of Tennessee by the student who they unfairly tarnished.
I read that article. What disturbed me was that the other kid kept the video until she was accepted to college. That’s a whole other level of retribution and I completely disagree on the way the university handled it. It also struck me as very odd that the kid had to tell his own father not to use the word in question. His behavior, and the fact that he and the girl were friendly earlier on does not sit right with me. But you’re right, this is madness.
BK (Chicago)
@George You failed to distinguish the two cases. The student in the other story was not just removed by the university from the cheerleading squad; she was coerced by the university’s admissions office to not attend. In addition, she clearly displayed no derogatory intent. The student here was not suspended or expelled. There was no interruption in her education. She was simply removed from the cheerleading squad. It appears that people believe participating in extracurricular activities is as much of a right as receiving an education. You’re concerned about any online mob mentality, and I’m concerned about the ability of people like yourself to use reason for different fact patterns.
George (New York City)
@BK I agree with you, BK, the fact patterns are different. The young person in the case I cited was treated such more harshly that the young person in the case cited in this article. But this is the case going to the Supreme Court right now and in my opinion the legal principle is essentially the same. Basically it comes down to the ability of our young people to exercise free speech without having school administrators using it as a cudgel against them. This especially important in the age of social medial.
John (Fredericksburg, VA)
Freedom of speech means you can say anything that does not physically threaten another. Our constitution does not prohibit whatever passes these days as offensive. Even racist and homophobic speech is protected because "protected group" means protected in employment NOT protected from being offended. We need employment protections that prohibit cancel culture and punish employers that make any hiring, retention, or promotion decisions based on any posts made off the clock that do not reference the employer. Freedom of speech was intended to be expansive and to protect especially minority and unpopular speech.
Todd Howell (Orlando)
Disagree, if you can’t say it openly in the office (because it shouldn’t be be said), then you can’t say it with protection in social media.
magicisnotreal (earth)
Who is disciplining the parent of the kid who took the screenshot? Every kid has said or done the exact same thing in the privacy of their lives. Yet another reason to look back and rethink the failure of the Clinton Administration to regulate the tech industry as it rose. It should not be possible for a child to have so much access to the world without in person active supervision at their finger tips.
John (ME)
If the ninth-grader had done the same thing but included "Trump" as a target in her message, the school probably would have made her captain of the varsity cheer squad instead of disciplining her.
Bashh (Pa.)
@JohnProbably not. Leave your prejudice at the door. The school district is in Schuykill County, Pa. The vote there was 69% for Trump. They still believe Trump is going to bring back coal there
magicisnotreal (earth)
Who is disciplining the tattle tale's parent? Every kid has said or done the exact same thing in the privacy of their lives. Yet another reason to look back and rethink the failure of the Clinton Administration to regulate the tech industry as it rose. It should not be possible for a child to have so much access to the world without in person active supervision at their finger tips.
Hal (nyc)
What possible chance do our kids have of getting a quality education when leaders of our public schools are clearly uneducated.
jkl (nyc)
Not on school grounds. Not on school time. Not using school accounts. Not even directing it to or about school faculty (as far as I can tell). How is this a school issue?
Lene (FL)
Even if this was on school property, this is a PUBLIC school. The student is well within her rights, especially given that it was not on school property. If you attend a private or parochial you may agree to go along with their codes of conduct. In a public school, there should be no question that one has the right to express themselves. We may not approve of the delivery, but that's a social smack on the parents, not a waiving of one's constitutional right of free speech.
Grassfed (in the pines of Oregon)
Back in the olden tymes of the 1980s, I was editor of our high school newspaper. We learned of our First Amendment rights and practiced them despite opposition from administrators. Then came Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which gave school administrations more leeway in shutting down speech. Still, that's about on-campus speech. The school has no right to suspend the student who posted something off-campus. A school-based sports, theatre, cheerleading, or other club should have the right to reject that student from their group, though.
Max (Lansing)
If she were my daughter, I would have told her to take her medicine...its one of many life lessons she will learn. What i cannot figure out is what parent would hire attorneys or press the issue more than what it is. Frankly, constitutional issue or not her parents created this brat and are only going to perpetuate it. She wlll now be just another of the grievance culture with their incessant whining.
It’s perpetuating entitlement. I put that on the parents. By doing this they are not teaching their kid that her actions have consequences. That’s a problem within itself.
Bashh (Pa.)
@Max A stage mother who lives off the reflected glory of her daughter’s accomplishments is the kind of mother who would make this the issue it has become. She is loving e every word written about her.
pjc (Cleveland)
So no whistling "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Burning of the School" as I walk my dog? Man, I'm glad I'm old.
Daddy (WyomIng)
This article plus the one yesterday about the sanctimonious kid in Virginia who held on to a snap chat for three years to harm another student make me almost want to cry. The fake outrage is so appalling and apparent. Delusional people plot for years for retribution. This school district is not harmed by the kids snap chat. Aren’t there more important things in life than to seek punishment of others? Are the plaintiffs without sin? Cmon
Gabriel c (NY)
While you’re allowed to think that, you’re so far off the mark you most likely can’t see it
MakeDonCe (Ohio)
I only have one question that boils back down to the fundamentals...money. Who is paying for this lawsuit by the schools? I have been hearing a lot of we need stronger schools...aka more money...yet the school system money are focused on this rather than teaching....America's schools are horrible for the money invested...compare it to other countries... Schools need to educate their kids...also on finance and learning how to lose and accept other people's opinion respectfully. Don't hide behind more rules and regulations.
PJM (La Grande, OR)
Sorry, but two recent American vice-presidents have been caught using the same sort of language. Did they get suspended? The same forces that have enabled a teenager to vent to the world should be the ones suspended. Hey, let's regulate "smart phones" to preclude minors from owning/operating them. If you are not willing to consider that, then you are partly to blame for this kids lapse.
Canard (Eugene, OR)
I'm always happy anytime there's an excuse to cite Bong Hits 4 Jesus again. Thanks for the thorough research.
Daniel (Houston)
"Congress shall make no law..." Sorry originalists, but this clearly states that congress shan't make the law, school administrators can make policy. This is a good lesson to kids in grade school, that what you say matters and you better be prepared for the consequences. How many people have lost their jobs for what was posted online later in life? Better to miss a year of cheerleading than lose your high-dollar career later.
Alanster (Minnesota)
Sorry, Daniel. In the wake of the 14th Amendment, a long series of Supreme Court decisions have made it entirely clear that the provisions of the Bill of Rights apply to state and local government. And just by the way, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a Bill of Rights, too. Among other things, it provides: "XII. That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing, and publishing their sentiments; therefore the freedom of the press ought not to be restrained."
ErinsDad (NY)
If you're an adult Coach and a ninth-grader can hurt your feelings, save the legal fees and go talk to someone who can help you.
JamesDJ (Arlington VA)
I am sure the Supreme Court will find some clever way to protect the free speech of young white Republicans while ensuring that all others are expelled from school for voicing any opinions at all.
Big Al (Southwest)
The Bill of Rights is made applicable to States, counties, cities, school districts and other local government agencies by way of the 14th Amendment. There is no question that a State, county, city, school district or other local government agency may not punish an adult member of the public for their non-violent speech in public. There's nothing in the 14th or 1st Amendment saying that a person in the United States has no rights until they are 18 years old. Chief Justice John Roberts, a Roman Catholic, lost his mind and his credibility when he wrote that a public agency, a school district, could punish a student for writing and displaying a sign saying "Bong Hits for Jesus". Roberts has been taking far too many bong hits and has lost sight of the fact that the LITERAL wording of the First Amendment protects everyone.
Joaquina A (Arizona)
If off-campus behavior is so egregious, call the police. Most athletic codes of conduct all for removal and discipline of athletes, especially for conduct unbecoming of a student representative. Posting inappropriate comments or pictures on the internet outside of school is a parenting issue unless it violates the law, then it's a legal issue.
Matthew (NC)
I think they should be allowed to kick her off the cheerleading squad or sports team. If someone badmouths a voluntary and selective group, even online, then that group should be allowed to make the decision to kick that person out of the group. Suspension from school is an entirely different issue though. It's not a volunteer extra-curricular activity. They're not selective. Public schools allow anyone in. That would be a punishment as opposed to a selective group's decision
jodivon (Hansville)
@Matthew So when she spoke the words to a closed friend group she should be held to higher standards than adults? She didn't share or direct these comments while in *any* school platform, time or on the property. Teachable moment re team espirit de corps from coach completely wasted and lost. This overreaction is all about adults and control. It's the school officials that made this an issu - we cannot control thoughts! But we CAN teach and learn about appropriate responses, team conduct codes and natural consequences. So much adult stupidity illustrated here. Shouldn't schools be about teaching/learning how to be an adult in civil society instead of punishing when kids show they're imperfect examples yet? So much pearl clutching stooopid going on here over a young teenage expression of frustration.
Hallie (California)
This one tears me up simply for one fact: You lose your job for thoughts and posts outside of work, you can lose your dream college for thoughts and posts outside of college, and you can lose your life for thoughts and posts outside your home. When do we start teaching children that your thoughts and posts outside of school can cost you your dreams and life outside of your safehavens? There has to be a line where a school can and should be able to intervene when parents cannot or will not do it. When will they be given the chance to learn that all thoughts, words, and actions have consequences? Not only the little things? I don't agree that court may be the right venue but at some point there needs to be a 3rd party that can do something. A young women just lost her dream school for using the n-word at 15. When will they get the chance to really learn about consequences for these types of actions?
mark (new york)
@Hallie how can someone reach the age of 15 without having learned how toxic the n-word is?
A lot of kids don’t know better at 15, especially when it’s used in rap lyrics to songs they love. Plus, it depends on where said 15yo lives, and if the parents have educated them about why it’s wrong. I read the story yesterday and while the girl shouldn’t have said it when she was 15, the kid who held onto the video until she was accepted to college is vindictive in a way that makes me uneasy. They had been friendly. He clearly still kept tabs on her in high school. I feel like there’s more to that story.
Harley Leiber (Portland OR)
Interesting case. But, the question is settled law. The SCOTUS need not hear the case, jJust point to the Fortas opinion from 1968 black arm bands case. School district in this case is asking the court, with their appeal, to narrow first amendment protections.
S. E. N. W. (Upstate, NY)
Often school sport teams have a code of conduct that the student may have violated. The school should have the right to decide if a student can participate in the sport if they feel that the student's behavior goes against the code. Plus, reading between the lines, "Using a curse word four times, the student expressed her dissatisfaction with “school,” “softball,” “cheer” and “everything.”", it seems a bit threatening and certainly disrespectful.
Thegooodlife (San Diego)
Free speech and the law aside, if expletives and middle fingers are the best response high school students have to a situation that is not to their liking, how will they react as adults when life gets real?
RosieB (Medway)
Poor kid. When I was her age, I vented on paper in a diary, which I burned several years ago.
albert (arlington)
@RosieB Spoiled kid that did not try hard enough to get on the varsity team and chose to bad mouth everyone else because of her entitled attitude. Bet the parents are the same.
John (ME)
@RosieB Burning your old diary was a smart move. In today's political climate, it's best to be silent and not memorialize your private thoughts, lest they be found and exposed years later. Behavior and thoughts that are considered acceptable today may be beyond the pale in the future. Protect yourself, your family, and your career. Leave no traces.
Paul Nelson (St. Paul)
Here is the difference between the 2007 case and this one. In that case the student mentioned Jesus in a sort of disrespectful way. That student lost. This student apparently did not mention Jesus. This student wins.
Frances Taylor (NH)
Agree that the admin went too far. Likely a stern talking would have been better. However, there have been any number of instances where a student has used such harmful words online that the receiving student has been truly harmed to the point of needing lengthy counseling to recover. I'm thinking taking this case to court is a mistake. If the justices say that teens have the "right" to use harmful speech the result will be a disaster.
Joyce Hill (Maryland)
If it doesn’t involve the school or another student, the school should stay out of it. What if parents say disparaging things about the school. Is the school going to sue them? Where does it end. Clearly the school overstepped its boundaries.
John Harrington (On The Road)
I think the standard should be - did she break the law? Was she making threats? Did she say she was out to disrupt school when she was there? If she wasn’t doing any of that, then - no - the school should back off in such circumstances. An exception would be if it’s a private school and you sign a student contract pledging to adhere to whatever rules the school set out - including out of school behavior. Now, we come to the issue of the use of certain words. Another cheer participant lost her scholarship at the University of Tennessee and wound up withdrawing from the school because she used the N word in a three second video when she was a high school freshman in Leesburg, VA. Four years ago. In her case, social media did her in. Hey, kids, self regulation is a good idea.
Everett (Hays, KS)
@John Harrington if you read that NYT article about the student from VA who list her cheerleading scholarship, like I did, you would remember that that when compliants were made about racist language used, the school said that they couldn't regulate what students said outside of school. Furthermore, yes the University of Tennessee did ask the student to withdraw but did not force her and yes she did lose her scholarship but not the ability to try out for their cheerleading squad. So it's not quite the same.
Mike (Pennsylvania)
Schools should have no power once a student is off its property. Same goes for the teachers. Anything that is said or done that is legal and off school property should be out of the school's purview. I'm tired of teachers getting in trouble for going to a bar and having drinks and I'm tired of both students and teachers being punished for social media posts!
Avinash (Maryland)
@Mike Depends if that speech can become disruptive to the classroom, the statements by this girl were not disruptive, and should not have been restricted
It is time to pull on the reins of social media’s so-called free speech and not a moment too soon. Expression on social media is broadcast everywhere so when salacious expressions are spread widely, there must be limits
albert (arlington)
All speech is not equal. The S.Ct. has recognized that political speech is given more latitude since it serves a purpose. Thus, protests against Vietnam is permitted. However, speech that denigrates another or speech promoting drug usage, even though exercised in bad judgment, should not be permitted because they serve no useful purpose. The punishment, however, should fit the crime. You don't suspend a person when an apology will do.
Dell (Portland, Oregon)
@albert No one in this case has been suspended.
art (the lover)
Unfortunately for her the use of antisocial media appears to support the teams decision.
Avinash (Maryland)
The issue is simple, are her words disruptive to the classroom? Do they attack or disparage another group or individual? If no, then they should not be restricted The school should only act if it causes issues within the school In this case, the student was not attacking anyone and her words did not disrupt the school, so the school should not have tried to restrict her speech
Laura (Boston)
Maybe the school would have had a more successful outcome if they brought the parents in on the conversation and asked them to have a conversation with the student about it without having it escalate. Leave it up to the parents to coach the student on how to express frustrations in these days of expansive social media and still protect the right to free speech. This is more of an ethical issue than a legal one and the school is reaching too far into first amendment rights.
Carol Kennedy (Lake Arrowhead, CA)
She's a teenager. Growing up is difficult. But the example set by our president and his friends & family isn't helping anyone's moral compass today. Let's hope she moves on in her young life and succeeds in all that she endeavors to do.
Ex New Yorker (The Netherlands)
Just another example of a school district over-reacting to a lot of nothing. Everything from black armbands to hair length and color to the message on a t-shirt. I think I've seen it all.
ultimateliberal (new orleans)
In my opinion (I am not an attorney, but a retired teacher/school administrator), the student posted libelous/slanderous material about the school and members of its staff. It is time for all insulting, threatening printed words---even on electronic media-- to be judged for what they really are : LIBEL, or slander, regardless of eventual deletion. The right to free speech ends at my good reputation that anyone tries to trash as revenge for my reasonable judgment.......
mark (new york)
@ultimateliberal i guess not everyone agrees that your judgment is always reasonable.
ST (Housatonic Valley)
@ultimateliberal. Slander is only in words spoken, while libel is in writing. Opinion spoken or written is neither slander nor libel. Only false statements of fact about a person may be slanderous or libelous. A student expressing her view that anyone or anything deserves to be described with a four-letter word is pure opinion.
wvb (Greenbank, WA)
Times have changed, and people need to learn that saying something on line, in social media, makes it permanent. The student in this case has every right to say what she said, and the school should not punish her for saying it. Her parents, teachers, and coaches might want to use this as a "teaching moment", but there is little reason for punishment. On Sunday the Times had a long article about the consequences of a statement made on social media by a student at a Virginia high school. The article should be required reading in every high school (or perhaps junior high school) in the country.
foodalchemist (LOs Angel Es)
What I didn't see mentioned in the article or any of the comments- taxpayer money from those residing in the school district is being used to take this case to a higher court. Those in charge didn't like the court's decision, so they're appealing. Within their rights, but on whose dime exactly? Were the taxpayers consulted? Because I gather most citizens with kids in 9th grade have heard worse than 4 curse words when a 14 year old is frustrated. I bet the taxpayers of the Mahanoy Area School District, which seems to be a rural setting home to just over ten thousand residents, would be up in arms and looking to replace a bunch of elected officials on that school board. But their lawyer will be paid!
BK (Chicago)
@foodalchemist The school district probably has insurance for handling lawsuits.
Catherine (New Jersey)
Just two days ago, a different NYTIMES article on a different person being punished for speech. Schools can do little to restrict speech or hold students accountable until a mob threatens violence if the school doesn't rescind admissions. It's all a big mess.
Listentoit (Texas)
My guess is she won’t ever make Varsity now.
soul survivor (California)
Article mentioned that an 'image' was used. Was the image of the child in a cheerleading outfit? or included image of the school or Logo? That would make a difference to me. If not, then free speech should apply.
Susan D (Quincy MA)
@soul survivor, the image was the the screenshot of the girl's Snapchat post
Charlie (Iowa)
The Supreme Court must protect the First Amendment and a young person's right to engage in speech outside of school without fear of retribution from the school. Given that many students are engaging in surveillance of students and that their surveillance tools can include rifling through students' social media posts and pictures of, for example, a personal phone plugged in to charge on a school device, curtailing surveillance of human beings of any age becomes even more important. I may not like the students speech or expression; however, if if it not speech that involves a real threat, students speech and expression deserves protection. Further, given the grievous harm that can result from students' speech and expression at a time when their brains are immature and their behavior impulsive, Congress needs to legislate a right to be forgotten so young people can grow up and not have their youthful speech indiscretions follow them forever.
The Helmsman (+37.8672, -122.4935)
Schools should never grasp for the blunt axe of court-sanctioned censorship to control the speech of either petulant, immature students or mature, articulate ones who are critical of injustices they perceive in their worlds. Students deserve to be heard. The censorship route is not productive and seems always to have unintended consequences. Instead, schools should stick to what they do best: use educational approaches and tools at every opportunity to support the develop of tolerant and respectful character. That will serve all students throughout their lives.
EE (East Coast)
Coach had a chance to teach a life lesson when the child showed her a snap chat message not intended to be shared. Coach did not teach the right lesson to the right child.
Larry (Missouri)
The first amendment guarantees free speech.the school system has no legal right to do anything to a student when they are not in school or off school grounds...
Gregg54 (Chicago)
Commenters should be aware that the Third Circuit was unanimous in its holding: The girl's speech is 1A protected and the school violated 1A in its punishment. The difference between concurring opinion and the majority opinion was over the majority's formulation of a judicial standard for off campus digital speech, which presumably is only reason this question is going before SCOTUS. People thinking this was unprotected speech, or that the girl waived free speech rights, or that exercising free speech means accepting consequences, or that low-value speech like swearing isn't protected are trending in Thomas/Alito view when it comes to 1A free speech of minors.
Blackmamba (Il)
The First Amendment is a negative limitation on local, state and federal laws regarding expression. It has no impact on private individual and institutional actors. Thus private schools and students have more limited freedom and liberty than public schools and students. And private media has more power and privilege than public media.
carl (st.paul)
Interesting that in a time when schools think they are short of funds, there is plenty of money for lawyers and expensive court cases. Any educator who is threatened by what a 15 year old girl who is upset says that they need to resort to the courts needs to find a new line of work. Perhaps it should have been a learning moment for everyone drawing on civics and writing curriculums along with up dates on education that teachers are expected to take.
Kay (Georgia)
I think perhaps an underlying issue here is the division of responsibility between school and parent to guide and raise the child. Teachers have taken more and more of the brunt of the effort to try to discipline students in recent times with fewer and fewer recourses to do so. When a teenager acts like a fool online, I think it's understandable that the school administration distrusts the parents to appropriately discipline the student. But this is a case for the parent to deal with. At most, the school can reach out to the parent to complain and request the parents actually do their job.
baba (ganoush)
These are the debates of a democracy. So at least there’s that.
Finnbar (Seattle)
Note that it was the daughter of a coach that took the initial step. The coach probably felt challenged not threatened. This sounds like petty politics, hardly anything the school should have formally rebuked.
Trying... (Central NJ)
Would this apply to parochial schools?
Austin Ouellette (Denver, CO)
Look, no one has a right to consequence-free-speech. The first amendment applies to retribution by the government. You can burn the flag while shouting that the US is terrible and the government can’t stick you in jail. However, if your boss sees your flag burning antics on TV and they violate a code of conduct which was a voluntary component of the contract of employment, your boss can fire you. Schools have policies against hate speech. If this individual is upset about the enforcement of that policy, I’m sure they’ll be welcome with open arms at Liberty University. Actions have consequences.
PittUSMC (California)
There is NO SUCH THING in a free country as “hate speech laws or restriction”. The fact that we allow opinionated partisan Justices to apply their opinion to such black and white issues is why we DO NOT live in a free country. In fact, our government takes more money from us to spy on us and control us than any other nation in the world, to include China. People are waking up to the fact that the government is our enemy and needs rebooted from step one. Imagine adults believing they can still extort your tax dollars, and ban your child from attending over words spoken or displayed! They believe they are your Rulers instead of your servants.
foodalchemist (LOs Angel Es)
@PittUSMC You obviously haven't been to China. Or Russia. Or North Korea. Or plenty of other countries where a comment posted in a newspaper could land you in prison. If you're lucky. But enjoy your egg rolls.
Ray (Waterford ny)
This is so simple it’s stupid! she does have a right to express her opinion, since cheerleading is not part of the curriculum. the coach has the right not to let her cheer. After that she never should’ve been suspended because it had nothing to do with the actual school itself, it had to do with the cheerleading squad which is completely separate from what she’s supposed to be learning in school so she can go to college. never deny a student the education.
WeNeedFacts (trumpistan, the Land of Ignorants)
Two facets of student behavior are at issue in the legal request to the SCOTUS: 1) Do students, due to their underage/unemancipated status, have the Same 1st Amendment right (to say non-threatening speech) as adults, OR a Curtailed right? 2) Does the school (an arm of the state government) have the responsibility (of “raising” children to be upstanding educated rule-abiding citizens) Equal to OR Above the parent’s responsibility? Both questions are related: If question 1 is answered to disallow schools from curtailing/disciplining a minor enrolled student, then this also reduces their power to act above parents. This would pose a contradiction to most states already having given the government greater responsibility over minors than the child’s state-sanctioned parent. If question 2 puts schools above “parental rights” as already they are (note: most states do regard a parent as only a state-permitted guardian of their/any child entrusted to them by the state government), then question 1 must be consistent & give greater power to schools to restrict minor students, above what parents can do. It is legally accepted that states consider themselves the superior guardian of every child, above even the biological, adoptive, or foster parent(s). Given that, then this issue therefore must also confront or include this thorny issue of whether the (state) government (i.e. school) is MORE responsible for “raising” a child than the parent to whom the state has entrusted the child.
Deedub (san francisco, ca)
With our current Supreme Court majority, the best legal test may be how a particular act would be treated if it had occurred at a Catholic school. Enforcing established authority is a priority. Bong Hits 4 Jesus, would be considered uppity by conservative Christians, is clearly beyond the pale. But is cussing about cheerleading more like politically incorrect conservative speech (protected) or like insolence from children (not protected)? I foresee several opinions.
SwedeinSEA (Northwest)
It may be her first amendment rights to say what she did but what really saddens me is her appalling attitude. Whatever happened to "hey, you didn't make the Varsity team, this is an opportunity for you to show your character, adopt a positive attitude and give the JV squad all you have. In the meantime, see what you can learn from it and improve your technical and leadership skills at the JV level with an eye to Varsity in the future". Is this really where our young people are right now - whining when they're not "winning" instead of improving themselves? And I wonder if her parents aren't there egging her on in this - both in her negative selfish attitude and this ridiculous display of first amendment "insult". geeessshhh.
jo (North of I-90)
Were I in a position in future to hire someone who was (i) female (ii) a ninth-grader at Mahanoy jr/high school in Spring 2017 and (iii) listed as cheer leader on her resume in her freshman HS year, I would not hire her. She'll never get recompense for the school's action against her. She will, in all likelihood, suffer consequences for such whiny and nasty behavior/words. Were that it will be so. It is one thing to c/o to a close friend, a family member, or even a few good friends about feelings of anger and being slighted. It is quite another thing to put those words on the forever internet/digital record, send them to 250 people -- 250!! -- AND then have One's "wronged" case go to SCOTUS.
I feel for the school administrations. They do not want to go down this road. If it was said out loud in school, that's one thing. Principals and Vice Principals are up the limit complaints about bullying and other behavior that occurs off school property. The coach who complained should really examine what she was hoping to accomplish.
adrianne (massachusetts)
The issue is a public school orderering the suspension from cheerleading which puts it in direct conflict of the first amendment. A private school would be a whole different story.
Bashh (Pa.)
@adrianne I don’t think the school has any business trying to regulate a student’s behavior or speech outside of school hours or when not on school property. I would be surprised if the Supreme Court wasted their time on this since the decision of the third circuit was unanimous and the court seems to be anxious to get on to the big stuff like overturning Roe v Wade, overturning gay rights and making it harder to vote. However nobody has a first amendment right to be a cheerleader. When I was in school there were five or six on the team out of a hundred or so who tried out. This young lady would be a member of a team, not a solo act. She does not seem to “play well with others,” or know much about good sportsmanship. The people who put together the squads have a right and maybe even a duty to put together a cohesive team that works well together without the antics of an attention getting diva. The team represents the school at games and competitions. The stunts and routines some of these teams do are dangerous and you need to be able to trust your teammates or there could be serious injuries. Unless school has changed a whole lot since I attended there will be no problem in finding a replacement on the team for this student
Mike (Down East Carolina)
Rights do not cease at the schoolhouse door. The notion that teachers/administrators are the arbiters of decency and political correctness in EXPRESSION is absolutely abhorrent and is to be avoided at all costs. It's the teachers/administrators that should be harshly disciplined for punishing students. Being fired should be the least of their legal worries. In loco parentis was shot down years ago and for good reason. The employees of the school system are simply UNFIT to be place themselves in such a position.
Teacher (Grayslake, IL)
@Mike -- You wrote, "Rights do not cease at the schoolhouse door. The notion that teachers/administrators are the arbiters of decency and political correctness in EXPRESSION is absolutely abhorrent and is to be avoided at all costs." I am a high school teacher. I understand the spirit of your post, but what would you do if you heard the F-word or the N-word or the B-word or the R-word or a homophobic slur in your classroom? It happens every hour of every day. Are you proposing that we ignore such language? That we recognize it as free speech? I am reacting to your first sentence. When your son or daughter walks through the schoolhouse door, it is one of my jobs to teach him or her about hateful language -- and to stand up for the targets of that hateful language. If I am silent, I am saying that it's okay. But it's not okay! By the way, I would be fired if I used such language. To be clear, I do not punish every kid that uses this language. That would be ridiculous. But I do talk to that young man or young woman. (Do you realize that most young women do not understand that they are the targets of the B-word, which is so commonplace now? This is good for them to know.) I recognize that most of them will not change their habits. I certainly did not when I was 17. But maybe they will when they are 22. Or 35. Or 65. When you are a teacher of teenagers, all you can do is plant a seed.
James (Texas)
This is America and you do have the right to say anything you want to. However sometimes saying what you have a right to say means you have to endure the consequences.
Mike (Down East Carolina)
@James Just a reminder; the 1st Amendment prohibits governmental entities from applying "consequences" to expression (i.e., speech). This isn't rumor; it's Constitutional fact.
randomName (midwest)
Students have been criticizing teaching and coaches for generations. They have also expressed disappointment to their friends. Before the internet, that was done face-to-face and many times comments much worse than this were made. Even if the adult caught wind of the comments, this type of punishment wouldn't have happened. It wasn't a threat, just a teen burning off steam. She posted this to a limited number of her friends, it should be treated the same as a face-to-face comment. The school's power should end with the school grounds and school events. Besides actual threats to the school, they have no business outside of those bounds. That is the jurisdiction of the parents, even when those parents choose not to do anything.
Ribollita (Boston MA)
I think the First Amendment should have its own cheerleading squad. Wanted: Gymnastics skills and a refusal to be silenced.
bob c (new york city)
Maybe a group photo of the Justices receiving their Covid 19 vaccine shots would be a better use of their valuable time.
Sean Morrison (WI)
Let's face it: this isn't about First Amendment rights: it's about ego. Which is to say, the ego of school administrators. Seems they haven't learned anything in the past 100 years. All this smoke and mirrors about "team spirit" and such...it's just that a certain kind of school administrator can't stand a mouthy kid and can't keep their authority in their pants. She said nothing that hurt anyone else. She said nothing that denigrated the school. She said nothing that violates standards of conduct (let's face it: expecting kids not to cuss nowadays is hopeless). There were no grounds for the school's overreaction. If the Supreme Court doesn't rule in her favor, then I just don't know WHAT comes next. But it won't be good.
CHICAGO (Chicago)
“The student expressed her frustration on social media, sending a message on Snapchat to about 250 friends. The message included an image of the student and a friend with their middle fingers raised, along with text expressing a similar sentiment. Using a curse word four times, the student expressed her dissatisfaction with “school,” “softball,” “cheer” and “everything.” Despite, or in spite of the fact that an expletive wasn’t used, no matter how many times, this article simply states that the student was expressing dissatisfaction with several facets of her school life. Yet the student is still in school. That she still stays instead of dropping out is a victory right there. At her age, I had already dropped out because school at that time had nothing of value for me. None of the things I was interested in learning were being taught at school. And I was interested in learning many, many things about our world. This school district, and every other school district in the country, is overstepping their bounds when they seek to censure or students’ off-campus speech, especially if it is not inciting violence or harm. This article states nothing more than she was expressing dissatisfaction. Commenters here that take the school’s side are just as out of line with any school district that sides with the school. Jesus Christ. Give this kid a break. Give ALL students a break. School districts are stepping way out of bounds on any subject such as this.
Brian MacDougall (California)
So, she's given up on cheer, yeah? Because this is not the way to get on the varsity squad.
CD (Palm Springs)
I thought this was basically decided in Morse v. Frederick, where the court held that a student could be punished for holding a sign saying BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.
NYC BD (New York, NY)
The kid who did the screen capture and circulated it is the one who should be punished. Sounds like a real jerk. I'm sure they are not very popular in school right now.
The Helmsman (+37.8672, -122.4935)
@NYC BD Ah, life in the inside out, upside down world is so righteous, isn't it? "If you see something, say something" is the best advice you can give young people. It's their world too, and they should feel free to shape it.
Shedera Redic (Bedford, Texas 76022-5937)
I think it is true. BioTech privately owned have ACCHCSd Shedera Lee. On the song I think I have found myself a cheerleader and Sabrina Fair. December 28, 2020 Publisher of Kendall and DeLine Publishing Publisher Jehovah’s Witnesses Shedera Shed•eur Insight In the Scriptures “Light Bearer “.
bill (Madison)
Any connection here to freedoms re. posting in website comments sections?
Teacher (Grayslake, IL)
As teachers, we walk a fine line. For context, I teach at one of the most diverse high schools in Illinois. And I love it. At the beginning of class earlier this fall, a young black lady asked me, "Mr. ----, what do you think of Black Lives Matter?" I expressed my support for a movement that is often misunderstood by people who retort, "All lives matter." Then she said, "What do you think of someone who expresses support for BLM and then posts a video of himself using the N-word?" She proceeds to tell me that the student is in my class (without naming him). I said that's not cool and asked her if she would be willing to talk about it after class. She said yes. After class, she explained what happened and told me who the student was. I thanked her for speaking out. Now what to do... We had a similar incident blow up last year. It started with a post outside of school and was "brought" to school by students who were affected by the post. Just like this one. However, there was one key difference. Last year's incident included a threat. My incident did not, as far as I could tell. Wait a minute... Isn't the N-word always a threat? Even when used by an immature ninth grader trying to be cool? I know what you are wondering: was he black or white? Does it matter? He was white. I decided that I was not in the position to take disciplinary action and referred the incident to our Deans. They handled it appropriately, effectively and discretely. Just another day with teenagers.
Beth (Upstate NY)
She is, as anyone else, free to say whatever she wishes but we are also free to not wish for her company.
Sarah (NYC)
I have to wonder why the school district even acknowledged seeing this post. Far better would have been to do what parents sometimes do (pretend not to be aware of it) and pick their battles well.
Our school system once had a rule in place where a student could be punished, i.e. banned from extracurricular activities, if they were caught at any time participating in underage drinking. If a student was picked up by police for having a beer on a weekend, the rule would apply. It was eventually struck down in the courts. (It did not reach the Supreme Court.) Public underage drinking is illegal and has no protections under the Constitution. It would be difficult to understand why this student would be treated more harshly for her actions, whch were immature and offensive, but not illegal.
Bashh (Pa.)
@BJ Cheerleading coaches would seem to have the luxury of picking exactly who they want on their teams. Personality counts as much as technique for a team. The coaches can choose from a lot of applicants for a small number of spots. They are able to put the people on the team who work the best with others. Not everything is about the law l
It’s About Time (In A Civilized Place)
Many institutions and workplaces have codes of conduct that state any bad behavior or speech that reflects badly on the school/ institution,both inside and outside of that environment, is subject to suspension or expulsion. Some schools require students to sign that they will honor the code. Enforcement is swift when brought to the attention of administrators. Many of us believe that when children are presented with concrete rules/ parameters regarding behavior, they follow them. They are taught why the rules are important and how their inappropriate behavior/speech can help destabilize a community. It goes to the core of integrity, honesty and respect. Speech is a privilege...not a self determined right. Speech can have consequences. In these days of the “ freedom and liberty” crowd, it is often difficult when parents and students fail to understand how their actions affect civil society. How their speech can be destructive. How their speech can lead to to violence. Parents have a huge influence on how children behave. They teach good manners, equality, justice and respect. Unfortunately, many have simply failed to do so... So...it will be interesting to see how the SC rules on this question.
albert (arlington)
This article touches on much that is wrong with our society. We want to win and tell the other side what to do. The fact that this issue comes up frequently, but there are not that many lawsuits shows that it is an issue that can be resolved. This is not about rights, it is about common sense. The issue is the punishment did not fit the crime. A simple apology and a teaching moment where a teenage learns to control their disappointment would be more productive than massive punishment by a show of force followed by expensive lawsuits to prove they are correct. This is an error in judgment. There is no need to create a sweeping rule to solve a small problem.
AnObserver (Upstate NY)
This is the most critical statement in the article. “Judicial decisions that permit schools to regulate off-campus speech that criticizes public schools are antithetical to the First Amendment. Such decisions empower schools to reach into any student’s home and declare critical statements verboten, something that should deeply alarm all Americans.” . Since the height of school protests between the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war movment public schools have desperately sought to control speech. Add the that the anti-bullying campaigns and the Internet and it simply becomes worse. Many schools and school administrators desperately feel a need to control their students. Remember "Bong Hits for Jesus" in Alaska? We've been allowing schools to control speech far beyond school grounds and the school day, all for the best of intentions but we've gradually taught these students that the rights they're taught in civics don't really apply to them. That has a price far beyond their school years and teaches them that "rights" aren't really "rights". That does not bode well for democracy.
Bashh (Pa.)
@AnObserver There was case involving students in a suburban high school outside of Philadelphia where the school district had collected thousands of photos of students by way of the cameras on the Apple computers the students were using at home. The computers had been issued by the school. In several cases students were disciplined by the school for activity that would never have been known to them, and was nine o their business, unless they had witnessed it through the MAC camera on the student’s computer. The school was taken to court by irate parents and I believe made to discontinue the activity as well as pay damages. With Zoom and remote instruction now taking place because of Covid the issue of student privacy and limiting the schools’ ability to punish off campus activity is again becoming relevant.
bea durand (planet earth)
The mother of the student in question, Mrs. Groves, stated, "the entire experience had “vaporized” 12 years of her daughter’s hard work. “They rushed to judgment and unfortunately it’s going to affect her for the rest of her life.” Pursuing a career in cheerleading, and the "hard work" dedicated to attaining that goal, should not define her daughter and it is sad that a parent would see this that way. Too often parents live vicariously through their children which may or may not be the case in this instance. Glad to see that her daughter has taken steps towards righting the wrongs of her actions by being actively involved in speaking out against white students bullying students of color. It is also disturbing that the whistleblower had to take matters into his own hands to get the attention of his high school's administrators. Systemic racism in certain parts of our country has to be addressed and what better place to begin than with the educating of our children. A simple, "what if that were you?" could open the doors to a meaningful conversation touching on the ramifications of actions and words that have negative consequences for all parties involved.
Jane (New Jersey)
It's way past time for schools to act as judge and jury on activities conducted off or on campus. Rape off campus, rape on campus? Rape is a crime, wherever committed and no school has the facilities or authority to investigate and prosecute the case. As for social media posts, it is chilling to think that any school would have access to a student's private, off-campus (or on) thoughts on, say LBGTQ issues or religion, or politics, let alone to discipline the student for expressing those thoughts. In the case of damaging speech - say false allegations against a fellow student or school official, the victim has established legal resources in the community. Let's get schools out of the law enforcement and civil process business.
toom (somewhere)
As to the first amendment, Chief Justice Roberts opened the money floodgates with the "Citizens United" decision in 2010, I am sorry to say. The entire US have suffered since then. With this student, Roberts may not be so generous.
Richard Wiesner (oregon)
Why should what a student says on social media be held to a different standard than the president of the United States? Did you ever think a question like that would even have traction? You wonder if the Supreme Court is ready to walk into this minefield.
Shamrock (Westfield)
This is an easy decision. The school cannot punish her. The school is the government. Good gracious. Did the school not have any legal counsel?
Tanya (California)
I think the A LU is dead wrong in this case. Maybe their lawyers are too far removed from high school and social media. My daughter is in middle school and has been on school sports teams. She thinks a post like that gets around would definitely disrupt school.
Jeanne (Ut)
It's the parents job to discipline her actions off the school grounds and when out of school. Not the schools.
Michael Chinman (Boston)
Why/how is this news? The Supreme Court fields many *thousands* of requests each year for Supreme Court review of cases, and the vast, vast majority of them get denied.
NR (Westchester, NY)
This story reminds me of one from two days ago (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/26/us/mimi-groves-jimmy-galligan-racial-slurs.html) in which a young woman had her admissions offer to a public university rescinded, due to an offensive social media message she sent at approximately the same age as the plaintiff in the current case. Amid all the acrimony provoked by that case, many commenters blamed school administrators for their non-action at the time. Yet here a yearlong suspension from cheerleading -- surely, not a very onerous punishment -- is going all the way to the Supreme Court. Why do we allow minors to use this technology? Yes, it's hard to regulate, and probably inevitable that many kids will have phones with email, text-messaging, etc.... But a simple requirement that truly socially interconnected services that enable wide distribution (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) allow only accounts for 18-year-olds (and immediately shut down the juveniles who fake their age when creating accounts whenever any controversy erupts) would seem hard to argue with, on a cost-benefit basis for society. Ability to use only email and texts, services where one need to identify actual recipients instead of broadcasting to a wider public, could function as a sort of "junior driver's license" on the internet. Seems pretty sorely needed, based on current news.
Dell (Portland, Oregon)
I only have questions: Does anyone see sending a text or chat to 250 people as, maybe, no longer really private? How many readers does a publication need to be considered private or public? A number of responders have noted that speech can only be restricted if it threatens violence and we should let slander and libel laws take care of the rest. Hmmm, can't speech be harmful whether it intends violence or not? In the punishment, is the school trying to teach something? Should this be a teaching moment? Do we really not want our schools to teach ANY kind of civics?
I agree that the school overreached, but I think the constitutional questions run deep in the age of the internet. Let's say she wasn't just cussing out the school but instead posting lewd or racist comments about a classmate. She's entitled to say what she likes when she's at home or out on the street, of course. However, that speech travels with her phone, and with her classmates' phones, on the school bus and onto the school premises. Now we have speech that's being shared and circulated in a place where it's banned and where its continued rearticulation potentially harms the speaker's classmate, who is in the presence of defamatory speech. Now it's the school's responsibility to protect the victim. What should the school do? Ban cell phones on school premises?
mlj (Seattle)
This girl used Snapchat which is a short term social media. So intended as private and limited communication. The person who took a screen shot and shared it is responsible for any disruption that happened. The incident is more like an adult that has a drink with a friend and grouses about the boss. Curse words are a way to give emphasis. The mom/coach who made an issue of it is the one who is being immature. She should have shrugged it off. I mean she's the adult. With regard to the parents we don't know whether they talked to her about her language and the use of social media or not. And kids say a lot of things with friends that they wouldn't say around parents or at school. Schools shouldn't be involved with off school venting even if is vulgar.
Steve Bellinger (Pacifica CA)
Well, this is pretty much the death of punk rock; movies, novels and plays that make fun of school - quite a world we live in. Cotton Mather would like it, though.
CC (Usa)
Is there a better word than the one she used when one is angry? It’s actually a pretty great word and perfect for blowing off steam. She didn’t use it toward any individual.
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
What a student does outside of school is no business of the school.
Note (Suburban Philadelphia)
This is clearly overreach to me. I hope the Supreme Court rules that schools have no business trying to control the private lives of students off campus.
Kathryn (Georgia)
This is the proverbial "slippery slope". We all know that you can't falsely scream fire in a crowded venue, slander, or cross the "line" when disparaging a business. Public figures and professionals are accorded different treatment. Armbands, flags, and money attained the status of speech some time ago. What are the damages here? If a defenseman on the hockey team gets cut and tweets to ten friends the same message, nothing would happen. Suppose an oarsman/woman gets cut from the eight and slams the coach online, off the crew. This tweet should have prompted the school to review the program. Favoritism from coaches is standard, inappropriate, and often pervasive. Telling the whole town about it may, in fact, alert the school board to problems. Cheer sport now provides scholarships for both men and women. Who makes the team and who doesn't become budgetary issues and determine financial scholarships in competitive programs. Then there's the distasteful "gotcha back factor" that pops up again here. Youthful indiscretion, jealousy, and scorned classmate? No racism is alleged. Why is this case taking up the Court's time? Golf clubs and hockey sticks wrapped around trees were much easier to deal with than these social media tweets. Who reads tweets of a teenager, anyway?
HapinOregon (Southwest Corner of Oregon)
Off school grounds, not wearing a school uniform, not identifying the school by name? And people complain about a "nanny state"? C'mon. This issue should never have gotten this far.
Richard (NYC)
What if the school is run by a church? Does the Supreme Court get to rule on a similar incident where the student attends a church-run school?
Matt (Montreal)
This is the tip of the iceberg. For two decades schools have increasingly limited what's acceptable speech in the name of peace and order. In the spirit of "diversity and inclusion" and now racial equity, schools routinely punish students who step out of line. The New York times recently wrote about a cheerleader who used a racial slur one time, 4 years ago. Her classmate waited until she was accepted at a school to share her comments. She was summarily forced to withdraw or be dumped by the school. She's now at a community college with her plans derailed. We need the first amendment - not for approved speech - but unpopular speech. It's not complicated and feelings do not trump freedoms.
Graham Hackett (Oregon)
Both a student and her parent thought this was ripe for escalation? Really? Other kids' parents need to chill out a little bit.
EE (East Coast)
The point is that this is a public school so the coaches and administrators are state actors and they are prohibited from infringing on free speech. We cannot leave it to people to decide what speech is acceptable. 25 years ago wearing a gay marriage pin would have outraged people, not wearing an anti-gay marriage pin will get you in trouble. There are places in this country where wearing a MAGA hat is considered horribly insulting, other places where wearing a Bernie shirt is considered horribly wrong. Black Lives Matter. Support the Blue. End this war. Support the troops. Stop global warming. Etc.The first amendment makes it clear that the government, i.e. public school administrators, are not the ones to judge what is ok.
Tim (texas)
It's not a school's job to police the private lives of a student. They are and should be limited to disciplining for the sake of education and safety of staff and students within the hours of instruction and on campus grounds. Employers (in at-will employment states, or with restrictive social media policies for employees) may choose to terminate and/or decry the actions of employees. Students are not employees. Personal live choices cannot be used as criteria for admission or continued attendance to public schools unless it becomes a threat to the safety of others. If allowed, where would it end? There would be no freedom of speech. Right to speech does not end simply where the communication becomes offensive to some. Offensive is not illegal. Libel or slander is prosecutable under law, and hate speech poses a danger to others. A kid dropping 'F' bombs in her personal communications off campus (key words here), as tasteless as it may be, is not within the purview of the school to discipline. Now, if it was being published/posted/worn/spoken on campus, or at school functions, then go ahead and discipline away. What happens off property falls to parents and civil authorities to judge and control.
Applejack (Albany)
She should absolutely be allowed to make statements such as this. In cases of cyberbullying or racist rants that target individuals, that are effectively psychological assault intended to cause harm though, there needs to be consequences. These consequences should not be left up to the schools however. It's a legal matter in cases such as those. They are not equivalent to venting frustration with an institution, be it a school or otherwise.
Compeyson (West Bloomfield, Michigan)
The "Tinker" ruling defended political speech and goodness it was silent "speech" at that. Allowing students to sling insults about teachers, classmates, school rivals, etc. without consequences will really turn dark and ugly. I know from experience that parents expect the schools to regulate social media nastiness and let me tell you, it's no phone. But a Court ruling in favor of the student will truly contribute to the coarseness of our culture.
Mr. Doubtfire (TX)
You want a Court to decide both parties got it wrong? Did the ACLU run out of alien's to defend and went back to discovering the landmark Ginsberg 14 year old girl wants to play on the boys team. I have to laugh she didn't make Varsity at 15 until after the baby was born. Strengthening our social morals is paramount to success outside of the bummer guards of education. The school didn't censor the student it applied its authority to restrict persons who fall below neighborhood standards during the better part of the student's day. If the app censor police had done the deed, that worthy of SCOTUS .
Mike (Peterborough, NH)
As a school administrator there are too many times when a student, often with their parent comes in to my office with evidence of online bullying against the student. Most often the evidence proves the post in question was written out of school hours, yet the parent insists I do "something" about it. If I call in the bully and confront her or him, I am blasted for not allowing their "free speech". If I tell the parent and student that as it happened off campus, I am pilloried for "doing nothing". When the bullied student commits suicide, I am blamed. For me, as a school principal, it is my belief that we take online threats seriously and hold students responsible for what they write, first amendment "rights" are secondary to outright physical and mental bullying.
Buckyballs (Texas)
They hypocrisy of the Court to defend and protect the Constitution will again be demonstrated. It will side with schools allowing administrators to control speech once again destroying the 1st Amendment. The Court will continue to allow unreasonable search to go unabated. Yet the Court allows gun owners to own rapid-fire automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines to be owned by God-fearing, freedom loving, gun toting "Fine Americans" who think they can march in most cities with their AR15s and MAGA regalia "protecting property", but more likely silencing dissent and progressive voices. Authoritarians continue having a field day protected by the 2-faced Court while real freedom-loving Americans are held hostage to tyrannical regimes. What happened to this country??
Sean (Costa Mesa California)
Funny how many people are arguing that the school has the right to punish a student for saying a naughty word OUTSIDE of school. Shows you that many people in our country really don't value free speech... they value their OWN personal right to free speech and want to censor anything that offends them or bursts their own bubble. The bubble being busted here is a student criticizing their school and how an organization within the school is run. Great to know people will support restrictions that lead to fascism in the name of protecting their world view... This really shouldn't be an issue if the first amendment actually was meant to guarantee free speech... however... we live in America and historically we never really had free speech. Just look to Eugene Debs... a socialist who was jailed for speaking out against World War 1 in 1918. Or look to Schenck vs. United States... where the famous "you can't scream fire in a crowded theater because it will cause a public danger" argument was first presented. What a lot of people don't know is that argument was used to justify imprisoning Schenck who opposed the World War 1 draft. What did shouting "fire" have to do with criticizing a government's decision to go to war? To hear the prosecutor's tell it... both were creating public fangers that could harm society. The person yelling fire could cause a stampede... and the person criticizing the government could cause disunity which would hinder the war effort. Very different I say
gordon (boston)
nothing like a little fragility to further consolidate the power structure. i love “freedom”
Dan (NJ)
9th graders are 14 years old. I mean, really.
John Grillo (Edgewater, MD)
“Disruptive speech”? Surely anyone could “drive a truck” through this ridiculously broad and imprecise legal test fixing the parameters of allowable student speech.
StuAtl (Georgia)
Mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I agree schools shouldn't delve into personal opinions in deciding a student's status. But she wasn't kicked out of school, just off the cheerleading squad, an overreaction perhaps but hardly detrimental to her education. Beside the legal and ethical debate, I can't help but wonder about parents willing to foot the legal bill all the way to SCOTUS because princess got her pompoms taken away. My parent likely would have said, "Well, learn from this and don't stay stupid stuff next time" and left it at that. In the social media era, it behooves us all to tread carefully because of what might come back to bite us.
BK (Chicago)
I guess if the student has a fundamental right to be on the cheerleading squad, regardless of anything she says, then the Equal Protection Clause has to allow for every student in the school to join the squad.
Suz (San Diego)
Ok, I have to comment because I’m a first year law student. While as a parent I certainly wouldn’t be proud of my daughter’s behavior, I have to agree, she is well within her rights to freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment. I believe it was justice Harlan that said in his 1971 opinion in Cohen v. California, that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric”. Additionally, it sounds like she did not use “fighting” words nor was her language obscene as to be “erotic”. I have not taken constitutional law so, I could be way off base but, I’m pretty sure things haven’t changed much since 1971! The 1st Amendment applies to all of us, even to people under the age of 18.
EE (East Coast)
@Suz The girl is a poet. I am a lot older than she was when she made that post, but I can assure her that her analysis of high school, clubs and things in general is spot on. Not making that team taught her more than making the team would have done.
liza (Chicago)
@Suz Yes, she has free speech. And others have the freedom to judge her based on the speech she uses.
Dell (Portland, Oregon)
@Suz Isn't the issue less what the student wrote but the school administration's punishment? And then, does the subsequent parent's lawsuit have merit?
CBeth (Massachusetts)
This seems a case of the lawyers figuring the student's best defense was a good offense. Crying "free speech" has been used too many times to defend insidious actions. And most of the commenters here seem to be playing right into their hands. The school has the right to require appropriate conduct for students on varsity (or in her case, junior varsity) teams who represent the school. Moreover, she remained in school, it was just her being barred from a team activity, and even then for a short duration. The initial Court decision was way too overreaching; that is why it is going to the Supreme Court. If they had limited the scope as Judge Ambro suggested, the case might have ended there.
Captain Nemo (On the Nautilus)
Even having this discussion exemplifies how weak the First Amendment really is. There should be not even a discussion. Free speech should be protected, PERIOD! Now, if someone would want to later hire someone who has build a record of being socially disagreeable is an entirely different matter. But if I were the personnel manager, I would not base my judgment on a rash and frustrated post a teenager has made in high school, I would look at the aggregate of someone's record. Those without fault may throw the first stone. I am certainly not going to be the one, unless the case is crystal clear and stands up against my own measure.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Captain Nemo No other country even comes close to protecting free speech like the US. The student already won at the appellate level. The student will prevail at the Supreme Court level as well.
jo (North of I-90)
The school administrators and cheer-leading coaches would have been wiser to think of more creative ways to (1) answer the crabby students' nastiness and (2) see that she was eventually cut from junior varsity -- say, for reduction in numbers on the team, or having to add a particular student as a reward or some such reason. There is no recompense for this student, ever. And I for one, certainly hope that What goes/went around, Comes around for her.
Alanster (Minnesota)
>>> ". . . wiser to think of more creative ways . . ." . . . to violate the student's rights.
JB (Tacoma)
I remember my middle school tried to issue detention to kids for getting in fights while walking home from the bus stop. After school. It did not work because the school has zero authority outside of campus. PTA shut it down at the next meeting and we never heard about it again.
Joe (Thomas)
This decision has more ramifications than simply allowing students to vent on social media/free speech. I hope the court sides with the student. Then schools districts would not have to worry about cyber bullying that occurs after school. That will go back to the parents responsibility. I’m sure parents will become very upset that schools are doing nothing to protect their child from cyber bullying, but that speech will be protected if there is not a threat of harm or violence, which most cyber bullying does not include (it’s usually name calling or rumors). Also would teachers and staff be allowed to post on social media venting their frustrations with school or students without consequences? As per usual, people fail to see the unintended consequences of decisions/actions.
Alanster (Minnesota)
It's disturbing, although not too surprising, that many commenters here appear not to understand the issue. This is about the constitutional constraint that prohibits GOVERNMENT from abridging speech, and publication. Public schools are government entities. Whether any of us approves or disapproves of a student's words or attitude or non-violent and non-threatening behavior is simply not relevant. Nor does the fact that you may remember that school officials of your youth got away with acting in violation of, e.g., the right of free speech. Nor does the fact that a school's or school official's image or reputation may be harmed (unless by slander or libel), or that someone may feel insulted, or that a student's opinion is wrong or unfair. What matters is that government, in all its forms is prohibited from taking actions or establishing laws or rules that abridge speech or publication, with some exceptions that simply do not apply to the speech in question.
BK (Chicago)
@Alanster The school is not prohibiting the student’s speech. Are you asserting that the student has a Constitutional right to be on the cheerleading squad?
Bo (calgary, alberta)
If your work/school place has no legal right to protect you someplace for insurance purposes, then it cannot punish you for what you say at that same time either. If I can be punished as an employee then it should count as being on the clock. The cancel culture hysteria of 5 years ago was never about those issues, it was about this right here. The ability to punish people at work and school for their freely expressed opinions.
Marie (Manhattan)
(Unless infringing on a protected class) Private companies are not the government and have no obligation to employ people whose actions and statements contradict with their corporate values, regardless of whether those statements are made at or away from work.
J (J)
Worried that this court will not give careful consideration to the online harassment component.
EE (East Coast)
Between the coaches and the fellow students it sounds like that cheer team is a barrel of laughs to be on, go out for track instead. Also sounds like the coaches and administrators would be happier not working for a public school.
Pete (California)
Ban cell phones in school, and then postings will not become de facto speech “in school.” Cell phones and internet capable personal devices are a huge distraction in schools and detract from a serious learning environment. As a taxpayer and parent I am dismayed by the permission schools grant to this disruptive, negative technology.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Pete Managing cell phones in schools is a difficult issue, but the internet has been in classrooms for over two decades now. Until somewhat recently, the onus was on the student using the internet to avoid bringing inappropriate content into the classroom. When a student’s disturbing Angelfire page or whatever came to the administration’s attention, the kid would have a chat with the school psychologist and proceed from there. If adults don’t like what kids are saying about them (or in this case, about the abstract concept of certain institutions?), they should do what they did for centuries and get out of earshot.
Pete (California)
@Ibby Nope, Ibby, adults need to be adults and put some limits around childishness, especially when it threatens everyone’s sanity, respect for truth and what is actually important, and - hence - the future of the planet.
R M (Los Gatos)
see a couple of things of interest here. I don’t know exactly what was said. Whatever was said was in a situation, as one commentor mentioned, no different than at a table at a pizza parlor. “gm”, below, suggests that sportsmanship is an issue. But the article implies that the student was unhappy about “everything”; so it seems possible that we have a case of a person complaining about life in general at the place at which they are, in this case, forced to spend about a sixth of their day. Everyone who teaches or has taught middle school or high school knows that this attitude and language are common. Being a middle school or high school administrator is extremely challenging; nevertheless, so far, it appears that the school badly over-reacted. My second concern is that there can be, where the constitution is concerned, a special type of person called a “student” whose rights to free speech and expression are different from everyone else’s. I find this notion extremely troublesome. When anyone’s rights can somehow be abridged, everyone’s rights are in danger. Someone in her first year of high school should, if anything, be treated more leniently for being critical of her “workplace” than those twice her age.
Martha (Dunedin)
I know one thing, the school was correct not to promote her to varsity. Her actions show she has a ways to go before representing on the varsity.
Bob (Tucson, AZ)
This case is not deserving of the Supreme Court's time. The ACLU has presented the case artfully. It will likely either be affirmed or affirmed on other grounds. There are no facts in the case to justify the schools intervention.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Bob Any first year law student would prevail on behalf of this student in this case. Who is paying the attorneys fees for the school? Mr. Magoo?
Tom (NJ)
School should keep their discipline where it belongs, for what happens in scholl, not in some person's living room or bedroom. It's ok for our politicians to use foul language and make threats of bodily harm on tv, magazines and newspapers? But punish a 9th grader for using bad words 4 times? That principle and school board needs to focus on what's going on in school. I'm sure when something doesn't go his way he has some choice words to say. Its up to the parent to discipline her for what happens outside school, not the principle. If the Supreme courts rules on her behalf, the principle will becursing, suspend him for a year.
Joan Waniger (Wisconsin)
Was the intention for Freedom of Speech to provide for differing opinions or to allow people to slander and swear? Very frustrating. When a school selects a cheerleader, they are intended to be role models. Maybe the school will need to include in the selection process provisions for public behavior. In our desire for freedom we shouldn't forget that certain rules/propriety benefit us all.
EE (East Coast)
@Joan Waniger I think that she was expressing an opinion that happiness and joy can be found anywhere, even outside of organized pursuits and true freedom occurs when we let go of our yearning for approval and realize that no matter how hard we strive for something we might not get it. She said it more succinctly and colorfully and poetically.
tom wilson (boston)
@Joan Waniger, like I'm really concerned about how cheerleaders effect my quality of life. Not at all to be honest. Sounds more like over reaching administrators upset they can't have their whey.
dog lover (boston)
I thought it was commonly understood that what you say in the privacy of your home or in a non public situation where you are guaranteed to not have disbursement to the general arena is protected by the law. Conversely, I thought it was also understood that all comments that are made for the general public in/or on a public forum for consumption by the general public and subject to non controlled disbursement was censored. Finally I also thought that if those same comments were determined to be in violation of the laws pertaining to slander, then appropriate action as stipulated by laws was or could be taken. Bottom line - how did this issue get to the Supreme Court? We don't have more important things to deal with than this?
tom wilson (boston)
@dog lover, well they did discuss that trump issue. I guess they need some comic relief?
D (Ca)
If I write this about my employer, I would have a good chance of being fired. Freedom of speech means I won’t face judicial action unless I am being sued for libel for my written words. There are still consequences to actions.
Aaron (USA)
Former coach here. The game reveals character. Therefore, we use the game to teach more than the game. One obvious lesson is how to react during and after loss, perhaps the most painful lesson in life in general. Also obvious to anyone who has ever participated in the game is an irrational or emotional response after losing — pretty common stuff and all too human. Coaches then redirect that behavior into a positive way to motivate someone to greater character development and success next time. They certainly don’t pile on someone who’s hurt by punishing behavior. The snitch needs some major coaching too. Disgraceful behavior in a team dynamic. I hope the Supreme Court stands with the cheerleader 9-0. Not only is the school overreaching, but the policy they’re attempting to enforce seeks compliance not education, ultimately undermining their mission and confirming they don’t know what leadership looks like.
Tanya (California)
I agreed with you until you called the child who informed to coach! You have absolutely no business coaching children!
Nancy Moon (Texas)
I agree with this statement. To those concerned about a slippery slope for cyber bullying, I would like to point out that the child—while colorful—did not threaten anyone. While there may be consequences for having a tantrum whether online, at school, or off-campus, I believe that the school missed a teachable moment about losing gracefully. Meanwhile this child is being taught that she can have a tantrum and then go to the Supreme Court to defend her right to have tantrums (Seriously? Why is this on their docket?)
Ibby (Michigan)
@Tanya A snitch is a snitch, whatever their age. You don’t tell authority when someone else has a problem with authority unless you’re looking to ingratiate yourself to authority.
ABly (New York)
Students should be disciplined when needed. They are minors, not adults. They often don't know the difference between right and wrong, and the time to teach them is before they reach adulthood. It's silly to say their speech should be protected by the First Amendment. If the parents are unaware at home or don't care or are unable to resolve the situation, who should teach the child it's not ok to use the N word, or make racist slurs that hurt others and cause divisiveness, not ok to use foul language? They need to be taught to deal with others in a civil manner. If parents can't discipline and schools can't, we are going to end up more and more with those who reach adulthood and then continue to bully and abuse the disadvantaged. The breakdown in social discourse we see nowadays is partially a result of decades of allowing kids to get away with just about anything – these kids become adults and get set in their bullying, abusive ways. Schools on the other hand shouldn't be taking the easy way out and imposing draconian punishments on kids who don't understand the difference between right and wrong. As educators, they need to spend actual effort in teaching children. Expelling a minor or ruining their life when they say something unthinkingly is disproportionate punishment. Kids should be taught what's acceptable or not, they should be disciplined when needed, and schools shouldn't impose cruel draconian punishments that ruin lives and futures.
Sandy Bumgardner (Corpus Christi Texas)
This is such a non-issue. She did not threaten or harm anyone. All she did was express herself and it was off school grounds/hours. If the school administration has a problem with it then it's their problem. Shame they feel like making it everyone else's. I'm reminded of the movie "Ferris Buellers Day Off" when he was describing his friend, he could turn a lump of coal into a diamond within a week, that's what I think of this school administration.
Jon (Washington)
Hopefully one of the arguments for student civil rights and free speech outside of school will include the detriment on morale and student motivation that would occur if schools can play thought police. My friends and I always bristled at many of the restrictions our school enforced as oppressive and it certainly hurt our academic performance at times when we were especially frustrated. I would not a blame a student for saying “f” it if punished for speech outside of school. If we want to restore institutional trust in our populace, our institutions need to start earning that trust with young people by being fair, compassionate, and welcoming.
Jon (Washington)
Hopefully one of the arguments for student civil rights and free speech outside of school will include the detriment on morale and student motivation that would occur if schools can play thought police. My friends and I always bristled at many of the restrictions our school enforced as oppressive and it certainly hurt our academic performance at times when we were especially frustrated. I would not a blame a student for saying “f” it if punished for speech outside of school. If we want to restore institutional trust in our populace, our institutions need to start earning that trust with young people by being fair, compassionate, and welcoming.
Connie L (Chicago)
2 things stand out to me. First, the use of expletives by adolescents (I just retired from 37 years of teaching high school) in every day conversation has jumped from covert to conspicuous and pervasive over my career, with the biggest leap over the last few years and intensified since 3/13/20, the end of their normal. Same with 'post-adolescents'. Not saying we should just let everything go, but this is the reality kids see, IMHO. Second, Snapchat is conversation, to kids; they quickly share thoughts, feelings, etc. with an audience of their own choosing. Obviously, things go awry, but ... from kids' point of view... it's 'just talk'. This kid was mostly blowing off steam. No coach loves a bad attitude, but she's in 9th grade and could use help to grow up. If it was my own child, she'd probably be in trouble for the entitled attitude (why should a 9th grader expect to be on the Varsity team/squad) plus the language and poor judgment with social media usage... but I'd understand the disappointment. The school's reaction is without nuance.... sort of Stepford-ish. Every team has members with crummy attitudes. This girl got caught. Teach her.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Connie L The entitlement is one thing, but rather than berate her for expressing her frustration and daring to employ the internet to do so, maybe the parents of the snitch should talk to their child about sharing privately-sent communications with those it was not intended for. That, to me, is the bigger faux pas than a few four-letter words.
New England native (Eastern Maine)
What do schools do to students who say things about race or wear MAGA gear?
tony (mount vernon, wa)
Character is unchanged whether a person is in school building or outside it. The post is clearly about school. From the description, it seems to be a direct insult and unsubstantiated claim of unfairness against the cheerleading organization. It's made by a disgruntled sore loser who didn't make the team. Is that free speech? Maybe she was rejected due to her immature attitude problem. This student's needs would be better served by a psychiatrist than a lawyer.
larry bennett (Cooperstown, NY)
Schools should not be able to police anyone for comments made away from school, unless on a school-sanctioned online site.
Jim (PA)
Oh no, a freshman didn’t make varsity? The poor dear. The biggest issue here isn’t online vulgarity, it’s that this entitled kid is turning her anger outwards when she most likely was simply not experienced or good enough to make the cut. Seriously, why would a FRESHMAN lash out for not making a varsity team that in all likelihood is a long shot for most freshman? Sounds like someone thinks they are special and has received too much unmerited praise. Work harder kid, and turn that frustration towards yourself. Maybe you’ll make the squad next time.
FantasticFour (Oregon)
But if she had been walking down the halls with her Air Pods in singing the lyrics to WAP, all would be just fine. After all, vulgar language made Cardi B a woman of the year! Mixed messages much?
David (Seattle)
We could try 'make no law' and enjoy the fruits of liberty that sometimes come with snide remarks free people can "survive."
John Bergstrom (Boston)
No threat, no names, just an understandable expression of frustration. Suppose the informer had captured a recording of the student and her friends emoting in a booth at the pizza place? Ridiculous! A little scary actually, that somebody would go to the trouble of capturing and reporting this, just to get the student in trouble.
Ignatius Smith (Brooklyn)
“P is for privacy.” Said in Elmo voice. Keep it to yourself.
Tanya (California)
One should not expect privacy when one sends a message to 250 people via Instagram.
Amanda Bonner (New Jersey)
The tragedy is that the girl who posted that ugliness doesn't have parents who punished her for her ridiculous immature, ugly, actions. Instead they hired a lawyer to sue the school district and now the case is dragging its way to the Supreme Court.
Lyle Ross (Houston)
What a laugh. Apparently, folks dont realize that the problem is two fold. Kids dont have the emotional development to behave appropriately and social media. Kids have been doing similar things since my father was a kid in the 1940s. Back then, you dropped your drawers in the parking lot and ran. If you got caught you were suspended and no one said a thing. You were learning a life lesson. This girl's parents just told her, be Donald Trump. It's okay to act like a clod in public as long as you can sue. Some life lesson. Being on the cheerleading squad is more important than manners. Woohoo!
Edward Allen (Spokane Valley)
Bleep Cheer. Seriously. Bleep it. What values are we teaching out kids with these sports, these competitions over nothing! We are teaching them the value of beauty, strength, and power. As someone with none of these attributes, I sympathize with the young woman. Bleep Cheer. Bleep coaches. Bleep the whole system.
fredzoTBP (Roseville, CA)
Re:A Cheerleader’s Vulgar Message Prompts a First Amendment Showdown That would be the Cheerleader from Hell, Donald Trump and his message that has been, and still is, fear, hate and division?
Adam (Brooklyn)
First amendment rights should not be considered as inviolable for a minor as for an adult. It's easy to defend a student who criticized her cheer squad in frustration, but what if it was racist speech, beyond just quoting song lyrics? Should she be able to prance right back into school and sneer at her black classmates because her racist tirade was posted off grounds thus unpunishable?
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
@Adam Yes, she should. But sneering IN school is something the school does have the right to control: the manners of students to other students or teachers.
Note (Suburban Philadelphia)
@Adam unfortunately yes (as odious as it may be.) Parents have a job, schools have a job. Disciplining the actions of a child which occur outside of school must be the responsibility of the parents. In the case being litigated, the school is overreaching IMO. But the case which you hypothesize does merit a sober response from the parents, and some serious punishment.
Eric D. (St. Augustine)
@Adam they would unpunishable by the school but not be their peers who have more power. The school could act once her presence disrupted normal ability to teach others. It would need to be the others student that were adversely effected.
Dell (Portland, Oregon)
Can an employee be fired from a job for comments made online? Is a school's relationship to a student equivalent to a business that fires an employee for expressing misogynist or white-supremacist views in an op/ed letter to a newspaper or online?
Edward Allen (Spokane Valley)
@Dell to respond to your questions in order: 1) yes. 2) no.
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
@Dell A public school is an agency of the government, and bound by the First Amendment. A private employer is not, but also has no business regulating its employees' expressions on their own time and off-site. This is a matter of ethics, not law. With a few exceptions (employees of one political party should not in public advocate for the other party, employees of a religious institution should not in public denigrate its principles), it's none of an employer's business.
Butterfly (CA)
@Dell Also students are minors subject to state compulsory attendance laws, and the community pays taxes to support their attendance. Different from adults working for private employers where they can agree with policies or quit.
Wil Cunningham (Florida)
In the public middle school where I was principal, when a student (or student's parents) thought he/she was the target of a threat or harassment, no matter where, how or when it occurred, it was expected that the school, not local law enforcement were expected to handle it because it was the school's responsibility to maintain a safe school environment. If the alleged persecutor and victim both showed up at school the next day it was the school's responsibility to solve it. One can imagine the time and expense school personnel needed to resolve such disputes to the satisfaction off all parties (especially at a middle school!) at the expense the many other demands and expectations public school educators have to fulfill in a typical school day.
Tanya (California)
Good that the school would address it. But if my middle-school daughter were threatened with violence, I would definitely contact the school, law enforcement and parents (if I knew them). I would not trust the school to handle the issue alone, and I certainly wouldn’t want law enforcement to receive second hand information.
Tom (Toronto)
I am in awe at the standard that children are held to on social media. If politicians were held to the same standard- Washington would be a ghost town.
BK (Chicago)
@Tom I’m in awe that people believe extra curricular activities are entitlements and that the First Amendment allows students to undermine their coaches or negatively impact team morale without any consequences.
Brewster’s Millions (Santa Fe)
The school made a mistake. Instead of suspending the little girl, the coach should have made her run for two hours at practice everyday and then just left her off the team the next year.
Cowboy Marine (Colorado Trails)
@Brewster’s Millions Or made her run 10 laps and/or 10 suicide-sprints, asked her to apologize, and kept her on the team saying "If you keep working hard you may still have a chance to make varsity some day. But now your JV team mates and the school are counting on you to be part of the team. Now go see if you can beat your personal best time on the laps/suicides."
BK (Chicago)
@Brewster’s Millions Making her run every day as a result is still a punishment for speech and does not change the reasoning for either position. Either there is a right to participate in extra curricular activities and say anything about teams and coaches without consequences or there is not.
Tanya (California)
Little girl? She’s in 9th grade! Even an elementary school girl would have known not to rant on social media to so many people. The coach and principal were right to suspend her from the cheer team. After all, it is a “Cheer” team. Her speech was contrary to school spirit. Social media gets around town. The school’s athletes and cheerleaders would have been a laughingstock at any sporting event she or any of the cheer teams participated.
T Kelly (Minnesota)
Bad language? These days, debatable. Poor judgment? A teenager's modus operandi. 50 years ago these same sentiments might have been written with milder language in a diary or shared with friends after school. So happens the "diary" is accessible to others. Still, who told her that expressing her emotions would get her suspended? Anything like a West Point honor code for cheerleaders? Besides, no one likes a stool pigeon.
Nightrain (arizona)
Schools are not law enforcement agencies. If a law is broken then law enforcement should act. If a student wants to show their ignorance on social media it is up to the parents to enforce whatever restrictions they think appropriate. The First Amendment is there precisely to protect unpopular speech.
BK (Chicago)
@Nightrain What right of hers did the school infringe upon? Are you asserting there is a right to be on the cheerleading squad, beyond the right to a public education?
VS (Boise)
At first glance, the student seems to be in the right, a post about something she didn’t get. But if you look deeper, her punishment was being banned from cheerleading, not from the school or other activities. I think punishment is just, no different if an employee were to do this for their company and the brass, they would get fired. So was she, fired from cheerleading for the school. She is free to add more posts and can continue to exercise her right.
Gussie Fink-Nottle (Tennessee)
@VS Maybe, but employment is a voluntary association with set terms. Public school is a government operation with which kids are required by law to associate (or give proof that they are meeting Gov't requirements in some other way, like private school). I don't think that is an apples to apples comparison.
Daycd (San diego)
@Gussie Fink-Nottle but she is not required to participate on the cheerleading squad. Which is point that VS is making here.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@VS In a movie, every student who had ever posted something similar, without being reported, would step up and resign from their extracurricular activities. "I am Spartacus!" And then there wouldn't be any extra curricular activities, would there?
Pen (San Diego)
Really? Plaintiffs want to delegate to coaches and school administrators the power to patrol and punish the cyber communications of students? No incitement to violence or disruption, no threats of any kind...just expression of frustration in a manner these mini autarchs disapprove of. Granted, civil liberty does not hold in toto within the school environment, but social media is not school.
Other means (East Hampton, CT)
@Pen Exactly; if the plaintiffs prevail in court, who gets to decide which ex-campus speech is "disruptive" and which isn't? School coaches and administrators? Save us.
Mike Boswell (San Diego)
The young women I know are concerned about the political chaos threatening our government, our feckless handling of the pandemic, the economic crisis affecting our fellow citizens, and the wanton destruction of our environment. I would encourage our schools, government leaders, courts, and media to look into these issues.
BK (Chicago)
@Mike Boswell You want schools to be responsible for dealing with the economic crisis, environmental damage, and the poor handling of the pandemic? I’m looking forward to reading how this would work.
Kristina (Harlingen , Tx.)
People have been fired from their jobs for making such comments on their social media once the employer discovered in the same type of way —someone pointing it out, so........ Freedom of speech is freedom of speech no matter which way you look at it, you can’t punish people for exercising that freedom. I agree that we may not like what they have to say, but they have the right to say it. We don’t have to agree and we don’t have to read such things, like a TV, you can turn it off or change the channel.
ejones (nyc)
Most of the comments on this articale - and theentire article on another student elsewhere who sent a classmate's offensive post to her college of choice - are absolutely ignorant. At this age, biologically speaking, an entirely different part of the brain - the amygdala - is making decision than it is in adults (prefrontal cortex). Ruining another's life because that person offended one is literally "two wrongs make a right" - absent any biological issues. Self-righteousness is always both unattractive - and wrong IMHO. This type of prevalent self-righteousness is literally why many people I know voted Republican. They did not agree with a single other thing the GOP said. Nothing. But they strongly felt political correctness and virtue signalling are wrong and compleyely out of hand. I am not excusing it. But if people want to understand why more Americans voted for Trump than four years ago - this was definitely a reason amongst well educated people of all racial demographics.
BK (Chicago)
@ejones You’re referring to most comments as being ignorant and you fail to make the most important distinction between the two stories you referenced. The student in the other story was not just excluded from the cheerleading squad; the university coerced her into not attending after threatening to withdraw its offer of admission. That adversely impacted her education. The student here has simply been removed from the cheerleading squad. There has been no impact on her right to attend the school. This girl’s life has not been ruined. The two situations are not the same, and this is not about virtue signaling or politics. Equating the two is ignorant.
Tanya (California)
The amygdala may not be fully developed in teenagers. Nevertheless, most teenagers know the difference between right and wrong, and behave within social norms. Should people not be eligible to drive, babysit younger children (or use firearms, which be more relevant to conservatives) until we are sure the their amygdala is fully developed? Regarding Trump voters, more people may have voted for Trump in 2020 than 2016. But more people voted more Biden in 2020 than Clinton in 2016, and about 7 million more voted for Biden than Trump in 2020. Why do people complain about being asked to be politically correct? No one is asking you — but we may choose not to associate with you. We should all try to be good citizens who care about our neighbors.
ejones (nyc)
@Tanya "Caring about my neighbours" includes listening to their opinions, even if I find them offensive.
Mooz (Liberal Island In Sea Of Red)
It's not vulgar if you don't think it's vulgar. She has the right to say what she wants
Atticus1 (Pittsburgh)
@Mooz She can say it, and she can pay the consequences too.
Tanya (California)
Yes. And there are consequences for decisions and actions.
David Sharkis (Columbus Oh ion)
Sigh, I am just not certain we need to make a federal case out of this frustrated teenagers brief scream. No matter how SCOTUS rules, the problem will not be resolved. Those of us who were teenagers before social media know what we said disappeared after we said it and there was always plausible deniability. When dealing with teenagers you need ignore certain things or handle it "unofficially". This gives feedback to the child without activating a formal disciplinary process like lawsuits and Supreme court challenges and getting written up in the NYT for one Childs angry response for not making the varsity cheerleader squad.
Tanya (California)
Absolutely right! The girl’s parents should not have contacted the ACLU. They should have let her suffer the consequences of her actions.
Kathleen King (Virginia)
First, WHY is "cheerleading" even still around -- especially when it affects mostly nubile blonde girls who are dressed in totally weather inappropriate (and otherwise as well) garments. "Cheerleading" indeed! Get these girls into a classroom where they learn something useful -- perhaps by reading Miss Manners and even Emily Post! It is bad enough that soi-disant "competitive" sports wastes the time of mostly males. EDUCATION is NOT "sports." it is patent that the whole environment is wasteful simply by the attitude of this young female -- and the lawsuit itself.
Mike F (Connecticut)
What do your comments have to do with the substance of this article? This case is about protection of free speech and if the punishment, if warranted, is appropriate. The debate on cheerleading is an interesting one. I agree there is a discussion to be had on that topic and the broader amount of hypocrisy throughout society. Interesting how we each decide where and when we choose to be outraged. But with your comment you have thoroughly vilified the young woman who unfortunately has created her own bed. It is up to the rest of us to help formulate a more thoughtful and constructive response to her actions. Criticizing cheerleading is not one of them.
mlj (Seattle)
Kathleen, you are very much behind the times. Remember Title 9 from 1972? Girls are just as involved in school sports as boys with softball,volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc. as boys. Cheerleading is considered a sport. I won't go into whether there should be school sports. There are opinions on both sides but I think it is important to kids to be involved in something. The kid should be able to vent with her friends without consequences from the school.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Kathleen King You are a breath away from suggesting we send the young ladies to finishing school. Maybe hold that breath and reconsider for a moment.
Michael H. (Alameda, CA)
The Times cheers when a student has her admission to college taken away because at the age of 15 she once used a word endlessly heard in some music and used non-stop by many, many 15 year olds. Once, at 15. The Times' lopsided view of what is righteous and what is worthy of defense has grown ridiculously one-sided.
R. Williams (Athens, GA)
@Michael H. I have read both articles. In neither did the Times cheer anything. The authors simply reported the stories, including reporting all sides of the issue. You may have a point if you are referring to reader's comments on the articles, but not the articles or the Times per se.
Amanda Bonner (New Jersey)
@Michael H. I read that article and the NYT didn't "cheer" -- it simply printed an article about the incident. Readers could make their own judgment about whether or not there was right, wrong, or both.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Michael H. Slurs suppress participation in public life. Swears do not.
Chloe Hirsch (Naples)
....and the bigger question is, why did a fellow student feel the need to “screenshot” this comment?
Northern Reflection (Toronto)
And show it to her mother, a coach? Wouldn’t want to be that kid!
JB (Tacoma)
@Chloe Hirsch Snitches get stitches.
Jan Bottorff (Silicon Valley)
@Chloe Hirsch I assume the poster on ANY social media is the legal copyright holder for what they said. And snapping a picture of the ephemerial SnapChat message would be bypassing the technical copy protection of SnapChat. So the person who took the screen shot could potentially be charged with violation of the DMCA (the law that makes it a violation to bypass the digital copy protection of a DVD). I'm not a lawyer, but one could also argue the school took disciplinary action based on evidence obtained by illegal means.
Eric Key (Elkins Park, PA)
Since public schools are an arm of the government, it seems that the Constitution forbids government sanctions for speech that is political, and criticism of a public school is political speech. Private schools would be a whole different matter.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@Eric Key But she didn't just criticize the school, she criticized "everything"! Pretty extreme! (Just kidding)
Liberty Spike (Hillsborough NC)
Its pretty simple. Its not my bosses business what i say or do outside of work and its not the schools business what kids do outside of school. And short of making threats, which is illegal anyway, There are no exceptions. Its none of their business. The school system is there to teach our children. Not control their lives.
Jimbo (Maine)
@Liberty Spike Except that your boss is a private entity and not constrained by the first amendment. If your boss doesn't like what you say on social media - or at a political rally - they can hand you walking papers. In an at-will state, you have zero recourse.
Amanda Bonner (New Jersey)
@Liberty Spike Obviously you aren't in the real world because I have friends who've received warnings from their employer about comments they've made on line. And the employer is not a Mom and Pop operation, it's large company.
VC (Georgia, United States)
Let's punish the student for doing anything that most adults have done anywhere in private or public at some point, but by all means - don't look into why the student is as exasperated as that. Might find some flaws with the adults and we can't have that.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@VC (And frankly, that didn't even sound all that super-exasperated. I've heard people saying worse, over fairly minor inconveniences.)
Peto (Illinois)
Where are the parents in all this? It would seem this is first a foremost a parental issue that should never go to a court. Let's expect good parenting and that good parents will contain the rud, childish and inappropriate comments of a ninth grader. It seems odd that they would rather ask a court to give their child the right to act inappropriately instead of ensuring their child learns civil behavior at home. The child may have the right, but that doesn't seem to address the issue here - bad parenting.
JB (Tacoma)
@Peto I would be a bad parent if I didn't punish my daughter for making a post like this about her school. And I would be an even worse parent if I didn't defend my child's rights against a school that is over reaching it's authority. The school has zero authority off campus. And will never have authority in my child's life. Are you a parent?
Henry Silver (Durham NC)
Points to the greater problem of the acceptance and even encouragement of obscenities in public discourse. That can’t be legislated away.
Honorary To Larry (Atlanta)
Children need parents need to teach not everything needs to reach the eyes and ears of all their peers. Social Media amplifies speech. There once was a time when a teen did not spend all their time on a screen. Maybe write a quick note? A diary anecdote? And you won't need lawyer at fifteen.
f in austin (Austin)
Without threat of harm or violence, and with no hints of racism, what's the deal? The adults should have moved on. Hopefully the court will recognize that that the true childish behavior here is being demonstrated by school administrators who have likely wasted a significant amount of money in legal fees that could have otherwise gone to education.
Austin Liberal (TX)
In grade 9, this student is under 18 and, in Pennsylvania, still a minor, under the supervision and legal control of her parents. They must be involved; why did they not step in and discipline her? Cancelling her ability to send emails for a month would get the idea across.
AT (Idaho)
The constitution protects not only things like the right to choose ( at least for now), but immature, hot headed teens on social media as well as BLM to march ( peacefully) and even hate speech. We are free in this country not because of having a huge military, China and Russia have them, but because of free speech and a free press. Let the kids say what they want off campus. Our colleges are becoming places where censorship is becoming the norm for nonPC speech. Censorship, even of stupid not to mention unpopular speech, is not what we should be about.
Ironfistedpoet (California)
What a student says or does outside of school hours is none of the schools business and no student should be punished for exercising their first amendment rights just because the school administrators don't like what they said. This would be different if we were talking about a private school, but we are not, we're talking about a public school that is bound by law to accept all students from the district they serve. What's next, not allowing students to attend public schools if their parents happen to have made disparaging remarks about how the school is being run? This is a no brainer.
Ivaylo (Ireland)
It is time the Supreme Court reigns on ruinous canceling and life-destroying of young children or adults for a misjudged word or statement.
george eliot (annapolis, md)
"Justin Driver, a law professor at Yale.... agreed with the school district, to a point." My professors at Yale always had a "point." Most of their points gave me a headache.
Deirdre (New Jersey)
The student didn’t threaten anyone or call for violence - she was expressing frustration. That’s free speech at its essence Meanwhile - these same republicans twist themselves into pretzels to claim Donald Trump tells it like it is while he picks business winners and losers, sends the stock market on a roller coaster and names regular people as enemies which threatens their safety.
John Marino (Calif.)
Disruption is censorship, so I disagree with the author that Tinker eroded students' free speech.
Bob Sacamano (Washington DC)
When I was a high school senior a group of students posted a disparaging message on social media about another student's parent (not named but it was clear who the post referred to). The school was intent on punishing the students until the school district's attorneys told them to back off since it would likely violate their First Amendment rights and result in the students suing.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@Bob Sacamano If there was a group posting a personal attack on a single student,the school would have more reason to pay attention, although how they dealt with it would be a difficult question.
Yelena Meier (Ankeny, IA)
In 9th grade I had similar feelings and thoughts about my teachers and principal, that I openly shared with all of my friends. Back then I was not cussing. I was a “good kid” with exemplary behavior and grades. Unfortunately I didn’t have 250 friends or snapchat. Looking back, my opinions of those people were not wrong. Maybe there is a problem with the school, their athletics department and people running it, and it’s in school’s best interest to quiet down the students, raising up the issues. The manner, in which she expressed dissatisfaction and her choice of words could have been better, but can you blame her, when the schools have been refusing to educate children since the beginning of pandemic. The kid had to be fallen into the choice of words of her environment.
Geoff L. (Vancouver Canada)
This is the second story in as many days about the perils of digital expression by young people during their formative and “stupid” years. Yes, racist, misogynist, vulgar, angry, and other unfortunate things are said by adolescents as they learn to curb their emotions and appreciate the gravity of words spoken or written. Cancel culture, heavy-handed responses, having a one strike standard to impose sanctions and punishments that may deny participation in school, college admissions, loss of scholarship opportunities for otherwise promising young people seems harsh. Online mobs of political correctness should not dictate the delicate job of assessing context, past history, remorse and provocation. Young people make mistakes. We used to say “sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Psychologists tell us that words can hurt, fair enough, but sometimes they just deliver a small and glancing blow. The punishment should be in proportion to the crime. No teenager should carry stigma through all their adult life for something stupid they said in middle school. How many of the older generation could possibly live up to such a standard themselves? Where is forgiveness?
Anne (CA)
If a young person plays in traffic, she's going to get hit by a car.
Jon Doyle (San Diego)
Being a member of the cheer squad is a privilege, not a right. How she represents the team is an integral part of her membership on the team. If she reflects poorly on the team, one perfectly appropriate response is to remove her from the team. This is at the coach's discretion, just as it was the coach's discretion to invite her to be on the team in the first place. In my view, this is not even a First Amendment issue.
Rick (Oregon)
@Jon Doyle Agreed. The School District is not restricting her speech. She's free to say whatever she wants. But the school has the right to decide who may or may not be on the team.
EE (East Coast)
@Jon Doyle But there are places in this country where wearing a MAGA hat is considered horribly insulting, other places where wearing a Bernie shirt is considered horribly wrong. Black Lives Matter. Support the Blue. End this war. Support the troops. Stop global warming. Etc.The first amendment makes it clear that the government, i.e. public school administrators, are not the ones to judge what is ok.
jimlux (Thousand Oaks)
@Jon Doyle The cheer squad is trickier than it looks. If it were a non-school activity, sure - a private organization can make whatever rules it wants (aside from discrimination) - wear green socks on Tuesday, and you're outta there. However, a school sponsored team (of any kind) is part of the school - and is subject to all the same rules as the school in terms of free speech, etc. If it's a "privilege" to be on the team, then it's unconstitutional to take it away (punishment) for free speech. There can probably be "non-public disparagement" rules, but the consequences would have to be tailored to the offense - and ephemeral private communications that get captured and shared are in kind of a funny space already. It's not like she stood on the street corner with a billboard making her statements.
Glengarry (USA)
I think both things are true: her speech is protected by the 1st amendment and the school can suspend her for actions detrimental to the "team". These things happen everyday. Say what you will but beware the consequences.
Camden (Atlanta)
Is school not preparation for real life? If a persons conduct on Social Media can result in firings and limiting future job prospects, then why not start in schools? Fourteen or fifteen is old enough to be aware of your conduct, how it may be received, and to be held accountable for it.
Z97 (Big City)
@Camden, a person’s conduct in their private life should not be allowed to lead to firings. Instead of starting with children, we should protect adults.
Cornstalk Bob (Iowa City)
This one is simple. Just re-amend the Constitution to read: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, UNLESS SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE FINDS THE SUBJECT MATTER DISAGREEABLE OR INCONVENIENT." Until that happens the Court owes that young woman a 9 - 0 decision in favor of the Constitution in its current form.
Not Salty (NM)
Per the ACLU attorneys arguing this case, this was the the student’s “...colorful expression of frustration, made in an ephemeral Snapchat on her personal social media, on a weekend, off campus, containing no threat or harassment or mention of her school, and that did not cause or threaten any disruption of her school.” It is also a very public venting of a selfish, immature, and toxic rant on a public platform. I support her right to say her piece, but I would not want her on a school team. That negativity is destructive. How one faces life’s disappointments tell much about one’s character. Instead of having a very public “moment,” perhaps focusing on improving would have been a wiser path.
Steve (Seattle)
How sad it is to think that social discourse has hit such a low that we even have to spend SCOTUS time on this issue. Unfortunately for the last four years we have had a bad example set by our very own president.
Charlotte Brevard (MIchigan)
As popular American culture has become more crass and vulgar, so has our propensity to lash out and use such language in public, everywhere, all the time. Propriety is the oil that greases the gears of a civilized society, but "free" speech comes at a cost America has determined is worth it. If the current political climate proves anything, it's that many Americans no longer believe that free speech comes with any responsibility whatsoever. This is the lesson that we are now teaching our young people.
Bugsy (North America)
While one has the right to free speech in the USA, “anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law”. Since this is true, you’re accountable for your free speech in and out of the court room. Being on the cheerleader team, or any other school sports team, is a privilege, and since a minor cannot enter into a contract, if the coach wants to bench you or kick you off the team completely that should be their prerogative.
popover less time (NY)
I fear this will be one of those instances where bad cases make bad law. You have a student acting foolishly and a school overreacting. A whole season ban for swearing is nuts. Some reasonableness on both sides could have kept this out of court. All of this over some anger of not making a cheer team. I fear a ruling either way--for or against the school--could result in bad consequences. I don't want schools to be able to police all off campus behavior and punish students for behavior that the school simply doesn't like. I also think schools have a right to limit who represents that school in privileged positions on school teams. They represent the school and thus could be held to higher standards to participate on teams, etc. I hope that the court issues a narrow ruling. A sweeping ruling in either direction strikes me as very problematic.
Chris (WA)
This shouldn't be a free speech issue. It should actually be about the the draconian punishment. The school has shown itself to be incompetent and unqualified to educate students. The school should be severely reprimanded. The adults who suspended the student should be removed from positions of authority because of their poor judgment. The student showed poor judgment by swearing on social media to 250 people. The student is also a student. She is not a mature adult. Surely there could be some way to teach her how to deal with disappointment in a more constructive way and learn the reach and unintended consequences of social media? It's so easy to have zero tolerance, zero wisdom, and provide zero value in educating students. We should hold schools to higher standard. The student deserves punishment but the school overreacted and deserves a harsher punishment.
BH (Northern California)
Away from campus, she should be able to voice her frustration however she pleases so long as she is not threatening or encouraging violence, or preventing others from carrying on with their lives. Even on campus, exposure to a wide range of opinions and ideas, as well as respectful, vigorous debate should be encouraged. If the schools can pull that off, maybe the next generation will be better at listening to, understanding of, and learning from one another than this one is,
William Donelson (Memphis TN)
What students say in their own time, away from school, should be protected. However, slander online against a school administration or personnel should be treated in the same way as slander against someone in public, with punishments as WRITTEN IN THE LAW if convicted (not made up by some school admin)
David Illig (Maryland)
@William Donelson: Your argument is greatly weakened when you don’t know the difference between libel and slander. In any event, her words, as reported here, do not appear to be libelous, merely offensive to some.
John Brown (Washington D.C.)
@William Donelson "What students say in their own time, away from school, should be protected" Except if its about race or identity, in which case a hard-working high school student should lose her admission to her dream college and cheerleading career for a three second video from when she was 14 years old. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/12/26/us/mimi-groves-jimmy-galligan-racial-slurs.amp.html
Rachel (Binghamton)
@John Brown For the umpteenth time, hard work does not guarantee you a spot on a competitive athletic team. Cheerleading positions are not guaranteed until you are at competition and public image matters to these teams.
Joe (Cambridge)
What is the difference between her statements on social media and if she had made them at a crowded table at the local pizza parlor? Young people say things, often ill considered. But so do adults. The school has no business suppressing what any American citizen, no matter the age, says off the school campus. As educators, they should know that many things that are said by students are the products of emotions that are not quite under control. Better to defuse the statements with reason and enlightenment than censor the speech. Better to educate than muzzle. That's what real educators do.
Ed Giovanni (Ct)
@Joe "What is the difference between her statements on social media and if she had made them at a crowded table at the local pizza parlor? " About a million people who hear it.
Joe (Cambridge)
@Ed Giovanni Perhaps, but of the million who might come across the post on line, how many will be familiar with the parties involved or even give a hoot about a teenager's upset.
Bklyncyclone#2 (Brooklyn, NY)
@Ed Giovanni nobody is forced to look at this girl's snapchat stories or any other of her social media accounts.
MikeO (S.C.)
A ninth grader frustrated by failing to make a high school team posts curses on a time limited forum. One of the recipients does a screen capture and reports the comments. No violence is threatened, no racist comments are used, no personal attacks are included. Just vulgar language. The school principal overreached and needs to back off. Sometimes ignoring childish behavior that impacts no one is the best course of action.
R M (Los Gatos)
@MikeO I agree; but what occurred cannot be ignored. Given the reach and influence of " social media", we can't be sure that no one was impacted. The problem is that the school administration badly over-reacted.
No time for losers (Washington)
@R M agree!
David (Seattle)
@MikeO Bad/ugly/snide comments aren't limited to children. They are 100% protected, even in school. Your rights to free speech don't in in government youth indoctrination centers. No disruption, no problem.
ASPruyn (California - Somewhere left of center)
“Using a curse word four times, the student expressed her dissatisfaction with ‘school,’ ‘softball,’ ‘cheer’ and ‘everything.’” The above does not threaten anybody. It does not threaten any action against the school, the administration, or even one that only disrupts school activities. It speaks directly to her feelings, and that, would seem to me, protected free speech. I am a retired high school history teacher. When we covered the Vietnam War, I covered the Tinker v. Des Moines ruling. Did the statement cause such a disruption of the school that would inhibit the school’s function to teach? No. Did the statement attack any protected group, as would racist or homophobic speech? No. I was directly threatened by a student (“Tell your wife I’m going to put you in the hospital”) and I felt that suspension from the class appropriate, but not suspension from the school. Her school overreacted in this case. Just looking at some of the language in Tinker v. Des Moines, “Neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Freedom of expression does not extend to threats or “fighting words”, and her speech was neither.
Dan (Lafayette)
@ASPruyn The problem with this case is that the Court is unlikely to be able to distinguish between, say, homophobic speech and “I hate my homework” speech. They will either go all in on anything goes, or go all in on the school having wide discretion to decide what would be considered disruptive. Ugh.
AngusM (AZ)
@ASPruyn even racist, homophobic, bigoted, & sexist speech is protected. It may be offensive & not acceptable, but is protected. I agree with the following quote: "I may not like or agree with what you say, but will defend your RIGHT to say it!" Folk these days don't seem to understand that there is no Right to not be offended. Misguided in believing that their wants & sensibilities are all that's important...
B. Rothman (NYC)
@Dan Yes sir. That’s what Conservatives do all the time. They make political and social mountains out of what are often humanity’s need to blow off emotional upset. But watch for their decision to be judgmental about the school reaction and yet say they were within the rights of the authority of in loco parentis. Conservatives back authorities and then they make up a reason to do so.
Rick Gage (Mt Dora)
I’ll let the court decide this issue but has it really come to this, a high school student is held to a higher standard of behavior than our own Commander in Chief?
Austin Liberal (TX)
@Rick Gage Are you really suggesting that we use Trump as a model of acceptable behavior?
Dan (Lafayette)
@Rick Gage We should all be held to a higher standard that the floor set by President Tantrum.
GBR (New England)
@Austin Liberal If we don’t punish the “big guy” for egregious behavior, then we certainly shouldn’t punish the “little guy” ( in this case the high school student) for far, far less poisonous behavior.
JLC (Seattle)
Can’t help but wonder if a male student would have been treated the same way.
Interesting. One cheerleader’s freedom of speech on social media about school, softball and cheering will be represented by the aclu, yet a 15 yr old girl’s freedom of speech on social media, kidding around with a friend, is dragged out 3 yrs later by some weasel with an axe to grind and causes her to withdraw from college and public life. The big problem here is social media. Back in the day, prior to some activity, the question one might ask themself is do I want to see this in the newspaper. Much like looking both ways before crossing the street, the common sense lesson is learning from other’s faux pas- think before you speak, photograph or type or hit send, your future may depend on it.
Frank (Colorado)
None of the school's business. The kid is being a clueless crude kid. It would be nice if parents stepped in. But not the school.
peter (CT)
Freedom of Speech does not mean freedom of reach. When you reach significant number of people with your content, you become a publisher and should be held accountable and responsible for your content.
Douglas (Minnesota)
>>> ". . . you become a publisher . . ." Read the 1st Amendment again, please. Carefully this time. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, OR OF THE PRESS; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." There is a large body of case law establishing that freedom of the press means the freedom to publish.
Liberty Spike (Hillsborough NC)
@peter thats ridiculous. When you make a statement expressing your own personal feelings on a social media platform you have made a statement. Nothing more. You have no control over how many ppl see it and cannot be held accountable as publisher just because a lot of ppl saw it. Especially since her post would not have been seen by so many had the school not made it an issue and called attention to it.
Dan (Lafayette)
@peter Think that through a bit. Multiply this incident by a few billion(?) posts a day reflecting teen angst. Are they all publishers?
Angus McEvoy (N. Cal)
Unfortunately even the Supreme Court cannot stop teenagers from saying stupid things and engaging in self involved, self destructive behavior. However, there is no reason for the coaches and other team members to tolerate that kind of insult and abusive speech.
Mark (St. Paul, MN)
We just can’t have a society in which adults are punished years after they said something stupid online when they were teenagers, when their brains were not yet fully developed. Thank God I grew up before the Internet.
EE (East Coast)
Kind of an overreaction by the school and coaches regardless of whether it was free speech of not. Is the school and the coach so delicate that a curse word and middle finger on a medium that is designed to last only a few moments and that was made outside of school hours called for that extreme punishment? and I wonder if no unpleasant words have ever been uttered outloud by the boys on the football or basketball team or in the weight room.
popover less time (NY)
@EE This is exactly right. The school, apparently, can brook no criticism. Obviously, the student should expect some blowback from publicly criticizing a program she is involved in. What happened to running laps or missing a game?
Gabriel (London, UK)
Given that the whole thing is about the student's free speech, it's kind of amazing (reading this from outside the US) that the NYT feels it cannot replicate the exact words of the tweet, and instead has to give us a nudging, winking, hint to let us decode what her words might have been... _The message included an image of the student and a friend with their middle fingers raised, along with text expressing a similar sentiment. Using a curse word four times, the student expressed her dissatisfaction with “school,” “softball,” “cheer” and “everything.”_ Come on, this is a ridiculous way to report this!
Ibby (Michigan)
@Gabriel While I think newspapers don’t have a responsibility in general to publish, word for word, a vulgar or unpleasant thing someone says, what even happened to em dashes? “F—” works perfectly well almost all the time.
E. Heyer (Texas)
One question I have is: did the student use school equipment to post to snapchat? The school can regulate the use of equipment they provide to students as well as to staff. Teachers have gotten fired when they have used their own equipment, in their own time to post. Teachers have gotten fired when others have posted about them that they have had no control . Art teacher is Texas fired when friend posted pictures that students found. It was considered disruptive and students would lose respect for her. Schools /teachers are charged with watching for bullying, disruptive behavior, providing examples of appropriate behavior and the list goes on. Maybe it's time to examine what is the school's role in this, what should be in the school's handbook and what should be in teachers' contracts. In many contracts moral turpitude is listed as grounds for dismissal. Since that is based on community standards , in some communities buying a bottle of wine or living with a partner without marriage could get you fired. So can having pictures of yourself in a bikini on a beach or holding a glass of wine/beer. All of this is considered disruptive to the school community. Will be interesting to see what the court rules
Robert (Philadelphia)
It may be off campus speech but it has serious on campus consequences. I believe that the school has the right to regulate the speech of their students, requiring good behavior on their part in the interests of the campus community. The Supreme Court led by John Roberts has no on-the ground experience in school settings or understanding of the power of social media. They don't even broadcast their proceedings!
TJCChicago (Chicago)
Seeing numerous comments here that are totally missing the point. Too many of us are raising children that are incredibly poorly equipped for the trials and tribulations of life. Didn't make the varsity cheerleading squad as a freshman. And this is the kind of behavior that results? And we're supposed to be okay with it because it's legal. This sense of entitlement, and then to have parents willing to go to court over a spoiled brat's whining, would be laughable if it was an isolated case. But unfortunately, it's not. Are these the kinds of human values we want to be instilling in our children?
Douglas (Minnesota)
>>> "Seeing numerous comments here that are totally missing the point." I'm afraid you are the one missing the point, TJC. The point concerns our Constitution and the fact that it prohibits government from abridging speech (and publication).
Ibby (Michigan)
@TJCChicago If teenagers using words amongst each other that they wouldn’t use in the company of adults had the power to destroy civilization, there wouldn’t have been civilization to begin with.
bpedit (California)
Dicey predicament. I’m a strong believer in the First Amendment yet... As a [retired] H.S. teacher who coached, I’d feel pretty uncomfortable having this student on my team wondering about her influence on other students. It doesn’t take a lot to perturb a team from cooperative mentality.
jodivon (Hansville)
@bpedit Yup, it *coud*have been a wonderful teachable coaching opportunity example for the whole squad. She could have learned that lesson 1st hand and left to see how squad-mates felt about it, the real fallout. All could learn how team gets affected by unsportsmanlike behavior. Instead it's all knickers twisted over a *private* outside of school communication. Jeez what a mountain out of a molehill.
baba (ganoush)
I seem to remember hearing about someone else....a prominent person.... who uses the internet to post messages encouraging violence, damaging democracy, disparaging others. Like the student, this guy makes use of a tax funded facility, has his attendance noted, is expected to turn in his work on time, and is watched for behavioral issues. The man seems to have all his free speech rights intact no matter how disturbing he gets online.
Pecan (Grove)
Does the school warn prospective students and their parents that their comments online will be scrutinized and that they will be punished if the school's bosses dislike their posts?
Mac (Colorado)
“The Third Circuit’s formalistic rule renders schools powerless whenever a hateful message is launched from off campus.” Sounds like the poor school has become the victim - nothing can be done. Why didn't someone in the school call the girl in and discuss the girl's frustration, and see if there appears to have been anything unfair in the selection process? ( Any previous run-ins with the coach or her daughter? ) Let her vent and then explain the school administration's position. There might be the possibility of both sides learning a bit.
Daedalus (Rochester NY)
Consider the opposite situation. The student's family objects, and at some point either before or after a court case, the school capitulates. Then watch everything light up about how white kids get a free pass and black kids get suspended for looking sideways. This kind of case is a no-win for schools.
Rudran (California)
We need more discipline in schools not less; this is where students learn there are consequences for actions including profane speech and rude behavior. Kids also need to know and learn the world is not necessarily a forgiving place all the time; and yes sometimes the world is unfair. Just ask any black kid in any place - even as a paying guest at the Arlo Soho hotel in NY. This girl got harsh punishment; but life is full of disappointments and maybe she has learnt a valuable lesson on how to deal constructively with disappointments in future.
Margot Smith (Virginia)
So she lost; doesn't excuse her behaviors anymore than our loser president's behaviors are excused by his anger. She has consequences for disrespecting the very body she hoped to join. So be it. No violation of free speech. Just standards.
EE (East Coast)
No matter how the court rules, I certainly identify much more with the student than the coach and administrators in this story. And doesn't the fact that a member of the team saved the snapchat and shared it with the coach, who then reported it to the school which then suspended the student from the team for a year prove the student's point?
Lookinglearning (Cincinnati)
There seems to be something missing here. The student was upset and felt the need to express that feeling - fine. In doing so, the girl did something that was not part of being a "team" member. In fact, it was detrimental to team spirit. So, the team then kicked her off. They did not force her to retract her statement, they did not prohibit her form saying what she wanted to say. They did, however, impose consequences for her speech. That is completely different, and well within the rights of a coach or a school. In fact, it is one of the key functions of a team and a school. Student athletes are taught to support the team, to submit the goals of the individual to the goals of the team, to look beyond themselves for success. For all we know, it was her attitude that kept her off the the varsity team (we are not told WHY she did not make the team). The First Amendment does not guarantee speech with impunity. Speech and actions have consequences. And just think if it had been a private school, there would be no case, as the First Amendment only applies to entities supported by the government. In sum, she was and is free to speak, and because being on a team is not a right but a privilege, her membership was revoked for failing to meet the standards set by the team and that action does not violate her 1A rights.
Ann (Bay Area)
@ Looking learning. Exactly what I was thinking but you explain it so well. They are not restricting her free speech. She is welcome to bury herself with it. Actions, and speech, have consequences when not appropriate. If she had used a racial slur, like in the other news story posted recently, would anyone be defending her free speech? She is creating a hostile environment with her foul language. She made that choice while exercising her free speech.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Ann Even granting that hate speech and swear words have enough in common to support the analogy you’re making, the analogy falls apart. Additionally granting that foul language in itself creates a hostile environment doesn’t help much, either. Hate speech or harassment off-campus can create a hostile environment on-campus. In contrast, cursing off-campus doesn’t conjure those words during the school day.
Austin Liberal (TX)
A cheerleader represents the school -- to her classmates, to other schools, to all who attend a function in which they perform. They are not just a part of the anonymous student body. As such, they have a responsibility, on or off campus, and certainly in public forums, to be cheerleaders -- not critics, and certainly not use profanity regarding the school they choose to represent. When they fail in that duty: They must be removed from that position. Being a cheerleader is a privilege -- not a right. Misuse that position and the privilege is forfeit.
Ibby (Michigan)
Any participation in extracurricular activities is a privilege, while at the same time being essential for development. Cheerleaders aren’t the only ones who represent their school, either. I represented my school to hundreds of others annually as a mathlete and to the local community as an actor. I was also uppity and openly critical of teachers, administrators, and the school in general on- and off-campus. I believe the kindest words I had for our superintendent were “mobster crook,” which no one could prove, but everyone knew. Yet no one at the time would have dreamt of revoking my privileges for it. The difference is the medium, and schools don’t like it when criticism comes typeset, apparently. If anything, students need to be taught that embarrassing public institutions is explicitly protected and often necessary to hold the state accountable.
FactCheck (USA)
Good thing we didn't have social media back then. Most of my friends and I would not have made it past fifth grade, with the kind of chats we used to have!
popover less time (NY)
@FactCheck This is in fact key. People need to realize that social media is very public. It is not private. Don't say something on social media (regardless of your right to do so) that you don't want everyone to see or here. The student was foolish and I tend to think the school is overreacting.
Anne (Westchester)
I wonder how this will impact New York's Dignity for All Students Act. Since 2012 the law has required schools to regulate speech (including social media posts) considered harassing or bullying. The law specifically requires districts to address situations that occur outside of school buildings and hours.
Dusty (Virginia)
In my day(73) there were many frustrated and angry school kids who were cut from a school team. Some cursed, some cried but most were in some way hurt and disappointed. What I remember is how the coach(or coaches) would handle the situation and talk to each member cut from a tryout to in some way ease the pain. Story mentions a coach who seemingly brought the student cheerleader's angry comments to the school administrators attention. For punishment? This coach needs to learn a little more about what is required to coach young school aged kids and how to handle a team 'cut' situation. I did, and every coach I knew at that time did the same. Was something at the coaching level missing in this situation?
Marylee (MA)
I think the girl's consequences were appropriate and specific. She lost the ability to cheer for one year, a logical consequence of toxic on line behavior related to the school program.
Dr. Conde (Medford, MA.)
If this student is punished then shouldn't the student who did a secretive screen capture and spread it everywhere also be punished? I actually think the second act more heinous than the first. In reality, if a school's computers aren't being used and the speech is not threatening to others, why is it the school's business? I do think that legislation regarding misinformation on media, social or otherwise, is needed, but that is beyond this case. Perhaps it is also time to reconsider the evil Citizens United decision, for if corporate money is free to speak and suppress votes, then surely a frustrated cheerleader should also be able to voice her dissatisfaction.
Lee Siegel (Newport, Oregon)
School districts have zero business regulating what students say off campus. And they really shouldn't have a whole lot of business regulating what students stay on campus either. There's something about K-12 administrators that is genetically repressive. When I was in high school many moons ago, administrators prevented me from passing out anti-Vietnam War leaflets in my high school and confiscated the leaflets. I called the ACLU, and the next day I got the leaflets back and nobody stopped me from passing them out anymore. Students need to fight for their free speech rights against administrators who think they can control more than they are entitled to control.
Erik (KS)
We need school choice so bad. The schools work for the parents and children, not the other way around. As long as we are trapped in the schools we area assigned to, we will be caught in ridiculous situations like this one.
David (Kansas)
You can read that Snapchat post on school grounds you should be disciplined accordingly. Had they found a way to keep the message from being opened up and read on school grounds then they should go unpunished.
RSF (Los Angeles)
If school districts can use existing libel and slander and hate-speech laws for their protection, what's wrong with, outside of that constraint, student expression being the same free-for-all that the rest of society enjoys?
Mike (San Diego)
So where do you draw the line? What if a student writes a weekend post on Facebook “I think my geometry teacher’s tests are so hard that they’re unfair,” only to face disciplinary action from the school?
Antoine (Taos, NM)
We must distinguish between words and actions. A rude gesture or racial slur is not the same as a brick through a window.
Linda Camacho (Virgin Islands)
We have become a society very eager to punish for anything we personally disapprove of.
Catina Coleman (OKC)
@Linda Camacho Society has never approved of certain behaviors, especially vulgar, public ones. This story describes a cheer team member who didn’t get selected (for reasons unstated) and threw an online fit. Cheer implies encouragement, not here, and team spirit is not demonstrated either, so consequences seem appropriate to toss a tantrum-throwing member off the team. I wouldn’t want her on my team causing further disruptions. However, a lawsuit that’s lasted 4 years is exaggerated. This is nothing like handing out anti-Vietnam pamphlets or cyber bullying. Each have distinct differences.
Tench Tilghman (Valley Forge)
Suppose this student, instead of using Snapchat, had fashioned a sandwich board with the same sentiments and climbed on a soapbox in the town square. Would the school have had any ability to penalize that speech? Of course not. When our Founders created the Bill of Rights, they had in mind exactly the types of grasping wannabe tyrants like these school administrators.
jimlux (Thousand Oaks)
@Tench Tilghman Actually, the "bong hits 4 jesus" kid did essentially that, and the courts upheld a suspension. There were some tricky aspects - the kids had been released from school to watch a parade, at which he displayed the sign, so there was an argument that he was at a "school activity" That's what they're talking about with the gradual chipping away at Tinker.
Michael Owen (Woodinville, WA)
This is not the least bit complicated. Speech not on the school's physical campus, nor on an online forum not connected to the school has nothing to do with the school whatsoever.
Chris (Reno)
This is a perfect example of why our eduction system is ineffectual and a complete joke compared to European countries. Administrators in education, are ironically the least prepared for critical thinking, and for some bizarre reason have an axe to grind when it comes to punishing students for being kids. Most of this is because there is zero academic rigor the field of education. It is the easiest, lowest bar for college degrees. It would follow that there is a selection bias for lazy thinkers. I have a lot of friends with education degrees. I wouldn't trust them to run a donut shop.
Skepticalculator (NYC)
Using a curse word four times, I would like to express my dissatisfaction with ‘censorship,’ ‘puritanism,’ ‘tone police’ and ‘everything.
Harry Haff (Prescott, AZ)
From the article: "But he added that schools had no business telling students what they could say when they were not in school." If this is so then the same principle should apply to adults and businesses for which the work. Too oftenI have seen stories of people being fired for what they say on their own time on their own computers in their own account. Some businesses actually require employees to submit passwords for their social media accounts and I do know that teachers have been fired for the same type of personal messaging.
Douglas (Minnesota)
>>> ". . . the same principle should apply to adults and businesses for which the work." We aren't discussing whether or not a principle applies. What is under consideration is the application of a provision of the Constitution, "the supreme law of the land." The protections of the 1st Amendment bind and limit government, not private employers, individuals or other non-government entities.
Matthew (San Francisco)
@Harry Haff The main difference here is that public schools are, in essence, government institutions. The First Amendment doesn't prevent private institutions or private citizens (in your example, businesses) from handing down punishments or derision to people for their speech. The First Amendment only prevents government from punishing or endorsing private individuals for their speech. While I largely agree with you that most institutions (private and public) have reached too far into our lives in an effort to influence or control our behavior, adults facing consequences from businesses they work as a result of social media or other speech is not a First Amendment issue.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Harry Haff The difference, of course, is that the government is explicitly disallowed from doing those things. Hiring practices have gotten super creepy, though. I just tell them I’m not on social media, and frankly tell my coworkers the same thing for the first six months or so.
Ms. Pea (Seattle)
Courts should take a second look at employers firing workers for things they do and say on their own time. Why are employers able "to reach into any [employee's] home" and discipline them for things they do and say outside of work? I realize that the first amendment only applies to government suppression of speech, but allowing companies to invade the private lives of their employees also should be reviewed.
Jackie (Missouri)
@Ms. Pea I once worked for a man who thought that, as my employer, he had the god-given right to tell me for whom to vote. Not "suggest." Not "should." Told. Informed. Demanded. Had we been on the same political side, it wouldn't have made a big difference, but we were not, and I was pretty sure that his telling me who to vote for was a violation of my rights.
Josh (Tampa)
The Supreme Court's decision will rest on where on the political spectrum the content and forum of the speech in question fall. If it were a private religious school, conservatives would rule in favor of the school, either on grounds of separation of church and state or on grounds that the Bill of Rights applies only to federal or state (by incorporation through the 14th Amendment) government action. Since it is a public school, those two arguments are mooted. Conservatives have the opportunity to rule against a public school. If the message were religious, they would clearly rule against the school. Because it concerns profanity disruptive of school activities, they may actually rule against the student, sustaining Tinker's assertion of school power over disruptive student speech, but if they do so, it will be written narrowly so as to rule out school prohibitions on all speech.
Bob Poitras (Albany New York)
As noted by my daughters when we discussed the story, girls in their schools are much more likely to be criticized or attacked in situations like this, similar to being disproportionately criticized when they wear a band t-shirt and are accused of not knowing any songs by the band. Their experience is that there are boys in their schools who drop the N word constantly without any threat of such a consequence.
Aiya (Colorado)
Between this story and the story a day or two ago about the cheerleader in Tennessee, I'm kinda glad I didn't blab much on social media when I was a cheerleader in high school. Of course, I also made varsity. More seriously. I can't see how what she said wouldn't enjoy First Amendment protection. Dumb and immature speech is protected as much as any other.
@Aiya Agreed, dumb speech should be protected. And to destroy someone's career over what they blabbed as teenagers is not appropriate or right. The punishment does not fit the crime. Maybe 100 hours of community service, but to rescind university admission?
PWR (Malverne)
One presumption of this article is that the school has a right to regulate on-campus student speech. The legal issue is about whether the school has a right to punish off-campus behavior related to school activities. If the girl had verbally made her remarks off-campus just to a group of other students it wouldn't be an issue at all. Such things happen every day in every town. It's an issue because the statements and pictures were posted on-line. Is the behavior truly off-campus if it can be viewed through a device that is on-campus? Suppose the girl stood across the street from the school shouting through a bullhorn? Would that be off-campus speech? Is posting on social media tantamount to publishing? Would the remarks and pictures printed on paper and distributed widely and outside the control of the student be subject to school discipline?
Douglas (Minnesota)
>>> "Would the remarks and pictures printed on paper and distributed widely and outside the control of the student be subject to school discipline?" ". . . no law . . . or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . ."
Michael (Jacksonville, Fla)
One more thought. If this child felt this was so important, why did she use snap chat? Snap chat is temporary. Did she believe it was wrong and wanted no record of her actions? When i want people to know i am upset I use a permanent form of social media. They all take videos.
RAF (New Jersey)
She used Snapchat because kids use Snapchat and Tiktok. What a thing to say.
Ek (planet earth)
@Michael Because she was cussing out some folks and understood that while the US has free speech, that doesn't mean speech is free from consequences and she didn't want some social media post dredged up and used as excuse to disqualify her from a school/job/club.....
Carol C. (Columbus, Ohio)
@Michael of course she wanted no record of her actions. Snapchat in the online equivalent of writing insults on the bathroom wall.
Sang Ze (Hyannis)
Time to ditch the constitution. No one takes it seriously anymore Just ask our leader.
Rodd Tundgren (Toledo)
@Sang Ze Er, our former leader. There’s hope yet.
BK (Chicago)
Being removed from extra curricular activities is not a punishment like detention or suspension. Since when is there a right to participate in those activities? This is not like a right to receive an education. Coaches have always been able to cut people from teams for displaying bad attitudes, including away from team activities.
BK (Chicago)
@BK I read other comments after posting mine, and I’m actually shocked at how many people don’t distinguish between the right to an education vs. the right to participate in other activities. No, there is no absolute right to communicate to the public in a way that undermines your coaches without any consequences.
Kim (Missouri)
@BK I guess since kids feel entitled to just about anything- because their parents— this girl on her own didn’t just up and sue the school district
Joe Smack (Washington State)
@Bob Our Constitution has nothing to do with it. She was not prevented from posted her inane comments. Her Freedom of Speech wasn't at risk. Also, she has no right that allows her not to be punished by society for saying stupid things. It would be a messed up world if she did. (You want cashiers to be able to keep their jobs when they call customers racist names?)
Why is the school district spending a fortune to litigate this case? Is there too much money in the budget? Are class sizes already tiny and grades already fantastic across the board? It's embarrassing. The administrators, or whoever made this decision, ought to resign
WolverineMom (Sun Prairie, WI)
@ABC I suspect the district is taking the case this far not so much to protect the sanctity of cheerleading (my eyes roll back into my head even as I type that), but, rather, to preserve their ability to do ANYTHING about cyber-bullying that occurs off campus.
Josh (Tampa)
@ABC Because the floodgates would open if, by virtue of such a decision, students could publicly express their disrespect for the school or its students at any time without fear of retribution of any kind. Online bullying is already an issue in that it contributes to widespread student anxiety and depression. Recall that most teens spend 8-10 hours a day on social media.
John Peddubriwny (Dublin, Ireland)
@ABC I recall reading of two almost identical cases in the US, where school districts took action against teachers for using the word "niggardly", believing that it was a racial slur. In both cases, the teacher was cleared. However, in order to save face, in one of the cases, in order to save, the SD censured one of the accused for teaching them words beyond their capabilities. In reply to your question, I think the answer is that those appointed to School Boards, are often not smarter than a 10 yr old.
Irene (Brooklyn, NY)
This is how politically correct gets a bad name and is also a reason why many people vote conservative agendas. This is NOT yelling "fire" in a crowded space.
RAF (New Jersey)
It seems to me that not allowing a girl to express her frustration by saying that a few foul words “caused chaos” IS a conservative thing. It sounds like she didn’t say anything politically incorrect or even mention her school.
Fighting Sioux (Rochester)
@Irene - The 9th grader should have yelled- "I'm a self-entitled, spoiled brat". This has nothing to do with being PC and if this would drive someone to vote conservative we have bigger problems to think about. At least you used the word "agenda"
Kim (Missouri)
@Irene used to be when kids were punished for inappropriate behavior their parents supported the school. I guess only kids of color have rules and social guidelines to follow- I find it outrageous these parents sued - never knew kids were entitled to be a cheerleader or play sports
Anciano (Indianapolis)
Free speech should not be abridged, especially by a group of dunderheaded school officials or pearl-clutching board members.
Paul Ephraim (Studio City, California)
She’s a student of the school; that has not changed. She publicly directed obscene gestures to the coaches and members of that group, protesting their assignment of her to the JV squad. The school’s response was to exclude her from participating in that group for the remainder of the year. Where is the First Amendment issue? It would seem to me that the coaches and administrators cannot exclude someone from a team because of their skin color, but they certainly don’t have to accept someone who waves a middle finger in their faces. It is a voluntary activity that requires team spirit and sportsmanship.
Frank O (Houston)
@Paul Ephraim : Exactly. Freedom of speech doesn't guarantee that you cannot suffer consequences of that speech. Using vulgarities in a fit of anger may not be earth-shaking, but would the school have no legal right to punish someone for racist/anti-semitic/violence-encouraging postings online? The young lady in question has, I hope, learned a lesson about putting things online.
OneView (Boston)
@Paul Ephraim She didn't wave it in their faces. It was brought to their attention that she made some bad comments off campus. Was her frustration temporary? Can one not vent some frustration without facing disciplinary action? I can assure you that anyone who has been "cut" from an activity they want to do, is likely to start by being angry and say some bad words to their friends. Then many people try and learn from that disappointment to work harder and be better. Instead, she just got suspended for a year. Terrible, terrible overreaction by the administration.
Paul Ephraim (Studio City, California)
@OneView I agree that it was probably an overreaction by the school, but it was within their right to respond as such. It is an extracurricular voluntary activity which the coaches and teams have discretion to control. There is no First Amendment issue.
Evan (Virginia)
I’m sure suspending her from cheerleading for a year will make everything better...
Bob R (Portland)
@Evan Yes, maybe she'll learn something from it.
PNW (Puget Sound)
The person was not criticizing, she was insulting the school. A criticism would be to state the problem, why she believed it was wrong and potential solution. Her post was,it seems from this, nothing more than a temper tandrum and, vulgarity aside, that is what needs to be managed one way or another.
Ek (planet earth)
@PNW So schools can't be insulted now?
fact or friction (maryland)
With social media, there is no real distinction between "on campus" and "off campus." One can logically argue it's all "on campus" since it's all literally accessible by everyone while on campus. It's the electronic equivalent of someone with a bullhorn standing 10 feet off campus and shouting with a bullhorn. Are students' social media posts, especially if threatening or racist or bullying, fully protected? Arguably not.
Jane Scholz (Texas)
@fact or friction It seems to me there's a line between threatening or bullying and expressing your opinion. Threatening or bullying someone is illegal whether you are a student or not. Racism is a tougher call. I don't condone it in any form, but if it's not threatening or bullying and it's not done on school time or property, seems like if the school is going to respond at all, it should be by using it as a teachable moment or asking the parents to counsel the child.
Ibby (Michigan)
@fact or friction When I was fifteen, I wrote a…let’s say “inappropriate” story and emailed it to some fellow students at their request. If one of them brought up that email on a school computer, should I have been liable? If I wrote a seditious pamphlet in the 60s or an anarchist zine in the 80s about, say, the tyranny of my school principle, should I have faced consequence if someone else started distributing that information on campus?
Nostradamus Said So (Midwest)
The whole problem would be solved if people would realize that there is no expectation of privacy when you post things. Someone is always going to share it with someone you don't want to see it. To stay out of these situations just think before you post.
OneView (Boston)
@Nostradamus Said So Yes, self-censorship is better than ACTUAL censorship. You can ask the Chinese and Russians about how much that worked for them It removes all that First Amendment messiness.
Bob R (Portland)
@Nostradamus Said So Ah, the key problem is the word "think" in this context.
Jane Scholz (Texas)
@Nostradamus Said So But what if you WANT the whole world to see you flipping off the school cheerleading squad? It would be nice if common sense solved everything, but it doesn't always. Seems like a talk with the child about being a good loser (a discussion a lot of people could use) or her parents might be more appropriate.
Mary (VA)
I taught journalism in high school and learned just how undemocratic a public school is. Ideally, students would be learning how to function in a democracy while still under the watchful eye of educated mentors. This would include lessons in the power of language for all students (as well as holding court, policing their community, running elections that have a real impact on quality of life.). Lesson one in all my journalism classes-repeated annually for returning staff-was the law, specifically in regards to slander and libel since minors are not protected from the damage they can do. We played it by the book, keeping student reporters notebooks all year as the legal documents they are and one year a student’s notes became germane to a murder case. The administration however, often acted more like an autocracy, shutting down stories if they might make the school “look bad.” These are lessons all Americans should learn as part of their education and adults need to be present to help them through the inevitable mistakes made in adolescence when the amygdala is making decisions rather than the prefrontal cortex.
Steve Moyer (Santa Fe, NM)
If schools are allowed to regulate out of school speech, will business be far behind?
ACB (Queens)
They already do, via at-will employment.
Ek (planet earth)
@Steve Moyer Businesses already can. The main reason public schools are subject to the First Amendment is that they are a government entity.
Kim (Missouri)
@Steve Moyer go ahead and post hateful speech online and see — my bet is that y indeed employers can and do take such things into account especially when making hiring decisions
Eva Lockhart (Minneapolis)
Looks like this Principal can't remember what being a 9th grader feels like. The cheerleader seemed to act like a 9th grader. Not such a brilliant way to act, but appropriate for her age, right? So why the over reach by the school? No bullying occurred. No threats toward a person, or toward property. The over reaction here by the school seems absurd. How much control and authority does this school need? This is about the ego of a parent/coach and the ego of a Principal who want control. Get over it. As a teacher I learned long ago that a desperate grasp for power over students is totally counter productive. Encouraging critical thinking and having open dialogue--about curriculum and about behavior, is what schools should promote. This situation demonstrates crazy over reach on the part of the school. There is just no defense for it, educationally.
G Fleming (Seattle)
Could not agree more. Unfortunate that the principal did not see this as an opportunity to have an open and frank about the impact of social media with the student.
Robert L (RI)
This is an easy case... if a student uses foul language and gestures with her fingers in front of teachers she would be in trouble. If a student writes curse words on a wall, she would be in trouble. What she did was to post "inappropriately" on social media; and due to certain circumstances she was caught by school administrators... in all examples the school "code" was broken and disciplinary actions should be appropriate. She is a child after all... "It takes a village to raise a child"... And she does retain her First Amendment right; but with the knowledge that Freedom of Speech has consequences... "The student sued the school district, winning a sweeping victory".... and this is when I laughed ; disappointed on so many levels.... kids going to court so they curse on social media... its funny... in a surreal slapstick sort of way.
Scott (Maui)
@Robert L "She retains her First Amendment rights...." The First disallows government restrictions on speech or expression; the school is a government body; the school is punishing her for what she said; ergo, she has lost her 1A rights. The only question here is whether her speech is one of the exceptions that has been carved out by SCOTUS on what is covered by 1A. My view is, if the school believes her speech to be disruptive to learning, then this falls within the intent of Tinker and her speech is not protected.
Blasphemer (Everywhere)
@Scott She posted it on social media. Unless the school owns or controls the account on which she posted it, how is that the school's business? Let's assume she lived across the street from the school and spray painted in big red letters the exact same expressions on her white garage door - clearly visible from the school grounds. Would the school have the right to take the same action against her? Local ordinances might make the family erase the message, but that is completely separate from the actions the school can take/doesn't take. And short of her admitting it, let's not even get into the discussion of how the school can actually prove that it was her who wrote the message in the first place. If she did not admit to posting the message they would first have to prove that she actually typed it and that the screen shot was legitimate and not a fabrication.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Robert L Kids are, in fact, allowed to curse on social media.
Vito (Falls Church, VA)
Looking at the bigger picture, there is nothing “social” about social media. It has done more harm than good.
Gustav Aschenbach (Venice)
Where does this place adults, including public school teachers, who are fired from jobs for offensive or questionable social media posts?
John R. (Arizona)
The public school is an extension of the government so they better accept free speech outside the classroom. I can see private schools regulating more speech but they should be ready to refund tuition when speech runs afoul of school standards.
Bob F (Long Island)
The 1st Amendment free speech protection in this case is clearly needed. Speech that can be considered offensive by authorities is even more in need of protection. What a student says out of school either on social media or elsewhere that does not disrupt the school in any way is absolutely protected from overzealous school authorities.
Karin (PA)
In NJ, schools are explicitly responsible for dealing with the fallout from any student interactions that impact participation in school, thanks to the HIB law passed while Christie was in charge. If a student harasses, intimidates, or bullies another on social media, from home, while school is not in session, the school faces liabilities if they do not address it. I'm interested to see if/how this first amendment case would intersect with the application of NJ's HIB law.
MelQ (Tucson)
@Karin So it’s interesting to see the number of terms for speech in schools. Threaten, harass, intimidate, bully. I would also throw in “embarrass” because that’s pretty much what happened to the Bong Hits for Jesus student. In this particular case, if the student didn’t name the school or threaten anyone at the school, I can’t see why she would be punished.
Al (Philly)
I say she is free to post what she likes so long as there is no slander or threat. I also say the school is free to enforce rules of conduct for participation in extracurricular activities, so long as enforcement is not arbitrary or malicious. Actions have consequences, it's a good lesson. We are going to have to learn that privately expressing our opinion, and publishing it, are two different things.
Douglas (Minnesota)
@Al: Yes, two different things -- both protected by the 1st Amendment.
MelQ (Tucson)
@Al Good point on making rules for participation in a school activity. But, depending on how it’s written, it could be quite the blanket statement.
Al (Philly)
@Al Now I'm thinking this isn't a free speech issue at all. I think the schools reaction was malicious. What part of the constitution does "limits of public school authority" fall under? Schools do have to maintain discipline and they do have to set standards for participation in activities.
Tom Q (Minneapolis, MN)
So the student expressed her feelings on social media and is punished by the school. If she verbally expressed her opinions, would she be punished? When I was in the ninth-grade, if every student were disciplined for expressing similar sentiments (or worse), there would have been no cheerleaders, sports teams or ninth-graders.
Susan (Maryland)
Rather than bust on free speech (which should be protected), the school and parents would have been well-served to counsel this student on appropriateness of comments, taking responsibility, and considering whether her comments were the right thing or was she having a temper tantrum. If this was done, I missed it in the article.
dude (Philadelphia)
Problem is when the speech disrupts school after the comment has been made and shared online. Distinction needs to be made whether the off campus language is justified criticism or hateful/intimidating speech through which a legitimate claim of creating a hostile learning environment could be made.
@dude good point. Same applies to work environments which is why some companies have such strict guidelines. It is all a bit subjective, but most corporations have pretty strict guidelines on what's tolerated to say/post online. If I didn't get assigned to a project, and did what this high school student did, I imagine I would be looking for another job.
Shel (Utah)
@EL yeah, but that's because you are an adult and presumably have the emotional regulation skills to go with that maturity. A 9th grader is a kid and should be held to a standard appropriate for her age, not the standard of a 20 or 30 yr old.
Abramalis-DGP-CA (So Cal)
Perhaps this girl looked to the President of the United States for direction on acceptable speech. Disruptive, crude language that denigrates virtually every aspect of our government and our democracy gushes from his mouth and Tweets on a regular basis. Other than expressions of dismay, nothing at all is done directly about that behavior. Why should different standards apply to a cheerleader? If such behavior is unacceptable for the president, people should be saying so and not just looking the other way. I don't think Trump's behavior is acceptable. But parents might just consider the repercussions on their childrens' standards when voting for a President, or when they stay silent on his speech.
John Peddubriwny (Dublin, Ireland)
@Abramalis-DGP-CA As a foreign observer of these things and after reading others opinions, my conclusion is that the school should have called the parents in, shown them the post, and leave them to sort it out. I would think the embarrassment to a typical parent that this might bring, would have the desired effect. I assume that this would not violate anyone's rights?
Peter (NH)
Given that the only objectionable thing she did was expressing her anger at the school from off-campus, it is clear that she can't be punished for expressing sentiments that teenagers have felt for years. If a student does do something truly horrible or illegal online, the police, not the school, can handle violations of the law.
Mike (Brooklyn)
I'm no fan of the recent Liberal/Progressive urge toward censorship, (no bullying, no harassing, no hate speech,..) The days of Jesse Helms' Conservative censorship seem like quaint drops in the ocean. But I'm not sure we're talking about "speech" as much as we're talking about social media. The question is whether social media is publishing, like newspapers or whether it's private communication, like telephones. Once we've decided this our decisions about free speech will be a lot easier.
Douglas (Minnesota)
@Mike: In this case, it doesn't matter whether it's speech or publishing, as the 1st Amendment is protective of both. Let's review: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Leonard (Chicago)
@Mike, I don't think it was quaint that people's lives were ruined (or even ended) for supporting gay/black/women's rights or for expressing "communist" or "socialist" ideas. Cancel culture is not a new phenomenon, rather the types of people who have the power to commit it has shifted.
Josh (Tampa)
@Douglas If it were that simple, then why is there such a long history of difficult Supreme Court cases on free speech, ranging from censorship in publishing to performances and schools? Speech in schools has been limited by the Court via in loco parentis and disruption. Speech inciting violence has been limited. Speech that compromises public safety is limited. You aren't permitted to cry fire in a crowded theater. Speech with regard to national intelligence is limited. Speech with regard to national security is limited. Publishing information about nuclear weapons and WMD is limited. Obscenity in public speech and on the public airwaves is limited. There are weak or non-existent protections for whistleblowers. There are 'free speech' zones which entail that no free speech is permitted in and around many political rallies and presidential appearances. In times of national emergencies, there have been many more accepted restrictions on free speech. So, the Court has time and time again recognized as acceptable a large number of prohibitions on speech.
Susan Dorn (Santa Fe, NM)
Initially my thoughts were that the student is being penalized because of the technological advances of this age versus earlier years when the rest of us grew up. Plenty of us expressed similar opinions on the platform of the day which was handwritten notes to one another and long phone calls. Of course there was no social media. I remember when I was in high school a girl was expelled for carrying a black leather bag with embroidered “make love not war.” The times they have changed. But not so much... On the other hand, fast forward 10 to 15 years and all these kids will be adults. If an adult posts something similar about the company they work for or their supervisor on a social media platform, it won’t fly. I know because I’ve been in the position of having to do corrective action with an employee over such an issue. We learn how to manage our private feelings about things such as this while we are kids. Or we don’t. Seems like the school district is missing a teachable moment.
Zach Sielaff (Madison, WI)
@Susan Dorn You're quite right, in the sense that it is important for children to learn that their bosses will have a significant amount of unaccountable power over them, and that they will not enjoy constitutional protections from the exercise of that power. But I think something better would be to change that power relationship, rather than lean into it.
William (Phoenix)
Will it soon OK to yell FIRE in a movie theater? There is a limit to free speech when you are degrading and promoting racism. Somethings are just socially unacceptable and I am still upset over the terrible letters people wrote castigating and degrading the young man who had been a victim of racism which was unaddressed by the school authorities and making her the victim of racism. There are or should be limits to what is acceptable. She lives in a social bubble and I don't care how great people make her out to be what she did was just plain wrong and she paid with consequences. Be careful what you ask of John Robert's court who gave you among others, Citizens United where a wealthy person or corporation can give unlimited money to political candidates and remain anonymous, may not rule for common sense for "free speech". After all he still thinks there is no need for voting rights after they ruled against extending the "Voting Rights Act" in 2010. As we watch GA, FL and other states dump people off the voters rolls for no other reason than they didn't vote in the last election.
OneView (Boston)
@William There is a difference between speech that can cause immediate physical harm and speech that merely "offends". The latter should be 100% protected and, in fact, encouraged. Speech that is "normalized' loses it's ability to offended.
Tom A. (St. Louis, MO)
Does she not realize that one cannot simply tweet out anything one thinks at the moment. Does she not realize that foul language is not appropriate in a social comment. Does she not realize that one should be in control of emotions and should not act like a spoiled adolescent. Does she realize that she is not President of the United States?
Norman (NYC)
@Tom A. She doesn't "realize" that because none of your assertions are true. Apparently you don't realize that we are living in the United States of America, where the First Amendment teaches us that we have a right to freedom of speech. It's reasonable for her to think that she should be able to express herself in the ways that are guaranteed by law. Her problem is that the Supreme Court hasn't been following the Bill of Rights. Instead, they've been substituting their own personal opinions. Your comment would be true if we were in the Peoples' Republic of China, where they regulate speech exactly as you say. We're getting there.
Kate (Out there)
@Tom A. She did not tweet. She posted a Snapchat. Snapchat is designed to be ephemeral.
baba (ganoush)
George Carlin and Lenny Bruce are amused and not surprised that Americans continue to be obsessed with dirty words.
MD (Des Moines)
I dont know why but I be always considered cheerleading sexist, anti-women. The fact that “girls” dance and scream and cheer while the boys play will never make sense to me.
DarkestKaos (NYC)
@MD I see your point, though I'd personally consider dancing to also be a playful activity. While cheerleading is is still extremely skewed towards being female, there are men participating. One could even argue that women aren't being excluded from sport (there's women's teams as well, though not supported in the same manner as I understand it) but that men are being excluded from cheerleading (assuming one doesn't subscribe to these activities being a biological preference, which I suspect you don't). Being realistic, my best guess would be that cheerleading is just another form of sexualization of women in society, of which there are many (some appropriate, other not). Cheers.
James M. Grandone (St. Louis)
Let's assume that the court rules that schools can control speech outside of their school property. Is that not a slippery slope to controlling behavior outside of school boundaries. Or are we giving school districts jurisdiction inside of its district boundaries? What about outside of those boundaries? What about moving on to surveillance of students outside of school? See, this is patently wrong on its face. Students have rights too. There is no age limit on the First Amendment.
Ed Giovanni (Ct)
I don't get it. The student has the right to say whatever she wants. The school is not stopping her ability to make the statement. The punishment is a consequence of her action. If the school took her online voice from her OK but they didn't. Every time you invoke a right given to you by the constitution there is always consequences, to often people get that confused.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Ed Giovanni The issue at hand is ultimately whether the state can be the instrument of consequence for protected speech. That is to say, in the case of public schools, limiting student speech off-campus is tantamount to government censorship.
Apm (Portland)
@Ed Giovanni That’s a naive response. Of course they’re impinging on her speech. To say that someone has a right to do something and then punish them for exercising that right is non-sensical.
Leonard (Chicago)
@Ibby, I'd say the trickier issue is when public schools have to deal with speech that harms other students rather than the school's image-- like racist or sexist language. Off campus, hate speech is generally protected as long as the person is not explicitly inciting violence. But the whole on/off campus rule seems clunky to me. Seems like the effect of the speech on the school community should dictate whether discipline is appropriate. But I do recognize the issue of "state sponsored" censorship.
rkanyok (St Louis, MO)
This should be a slam-dunk 9-0 Supreme Court victory for the student. Offensive speech, by it's very nature, is disruptive to authority - the very thing the 1st Amendment was designed to protect. Authority always wants to protect its power, hence they always want to extend their ability to suppress dissenting opinion to maintain "order". Whether the students are right or wrong, offensive or eloquent, as long as any other citizen could say what they said on social media, that power should extend no further than the school grounds.
Don (Green Valley AZ)
@rkanyok You are correct in my Opinion. But good luck to the school districts that try to ban smartphones or their use at high school. :-) But it clearly would be the requirement that the government school district bear the cost of that "control" and not the student.
Ed (DC)
Schools have long been overreaching. I remember an overzealous bus driver trying to write up my brother and I for getting into a snowball fight after school, in our own yard. The school's defense? The bus stop was the corner across the street from my house. My dad's deeper knowledge of the law than the principle (retired cop who enjoyed reading legal developments for some reason) and promise to take the district to court got them to back down. School districts have limited authority. The very legal concept that empowers a school at all, in loco parentis, means that formal authority rests with mom and dad, not the government agent who is only covering down for a few hours on weekdays. Given that social media has become so expansive, we needed a court decision that drastically curtails the power of a teacher or principal. Otherwise, we will continue to see the shift to government taking more decision making away from families. I hope SCOTUS realizes how dangerous or is fit free speech to not side with students in this case.
OneView (Boston)
That the school is trying to punish a child for speech that is critical of the school should give us all pause. Isn't that exactly what the First Amendment was trying to protect? The ability of individuals to criticize government entities without fear of government reprisal? If the speech threatened another student or bullied another student which brings a threat onto campus, even if spoken off campus, that MAY have some grounds for punishment. This seems as cut and dried as the circuit court made it.
WeNeedFacts (trumpistan, the Land of Ignorants)
@OneView: here’s why it is not that cut and dry. You may know that most state laws currently deem themselves (the state gov) the “superior” parent (legally speaking) of every child in that state, even above biological, adoptive, and foster parents. This means, the responsibility to “raise” every child (including to educate them, in knowledge and also social rules/behaviors) rests more greatly on the state. The public school is that arm of the state who is responsible for educating and “raising the knowledge/behavior” of ITS children. So, if/since parents are considered to have the legal right to curtail free speech from their children, AND since the state (public school) is another (superior) parent, then in fact schools already have the same rights as parents to curtail free speech of their minors/students. Thus, schools can already restrict the 1st Amendment rights of enrolled minors, just as parents can do for their unemancipated children. There is no problem here, unless the SCOTUS decides to now create a conflict in law, by restricting schools from doing what they were created to do (to “raise” and “parent” minors, some who have irresponsible or problematic parents).
LarryAt27N (North Central Florida)
@WeNeedFacts The kid was not on school property, which is where any supervisory authority begins and, in this case, ends. Cut and dry.
anae (NY)
Schools have been silencing students for generations. This is just another power trip by petty school officials. The student didnt slander anyone. Didnt bully anyone. I hope the courts rebuke the school.
Daycd (San diego)
@anae i don’t think they are silencing her. They just removed her from the cheerleading squad. In what way do you feel she has been silenced?
Wallace F Berman (Chapel Hill, NC)
Inconceivable that an high school student is held to a higher standard than the president of the United States
Austin Liberal (TX)
@Wallace F Berman Are you really advocating that schools use Trump as a model of decorum and behavior? Incidentally, the voters have spoken: Trump has been rejected as a model by the general public.
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
@Austin Liberal -Oh please, we collectively put up with his behavior for 4+ years. Plus, we rewarded him for that same behavior, which started way before inauguration day, by electing him, 2016. Plus, plus, his cursing wasn't the main reason for voting against him.
JEC (West Hartford, CT)
We baby boomers are very lucky. Due to the lack of ubiquitous technology in that era, no one videotaped the stupid things we did and said in our youth. We rarely paid a price or had the whole world find out. Most of these kids today tape and share their incriminating posts themselves. Technology gives them enough rope to hang themselves.
Ribollita (Boston MA)
This is the second article in as many days about the social annihilation of a cheerleader who didn’t stay in her place. The cheerleader has long been a symbol of unachievable “classic” beauty and the object of unattainable sexual fantasy, subject to out-sized resentments and bizarre obsessions. But these young women have overstepped by raising their middle finger in the face of the self-righteous “protectors” of the public morality and those self-appointed judges are frothing at the mouth to punish them. It is the stuff of witch hunts. We live in a time when any pipsqueak has the power, not just to denounce but to destroy another person based on the slightest “transgression”—because we have allowed them to and because in some sickening way, people who might otherwise pass as upstanding citizens are glad to have an excuse to jostle around the stake for a chance to watch them burn.
EE (East Coast)
@Ribollita Very well said.
Tom Baroli (California)
Conservatives fear our children. Better to shut them up when they’re young.
David (Westfield NJ)
The court should bear in mind that bullying and harassment via social media is rampant and has driven the victims to suicide in some cases. Speech should be protected in most cases, but not those.
Christian Myles (Bridgewater, NJ)
@David this is true. Is this not the case though? If I recall correctly the young woman in the famous HBO documentary I love you now die was punished for her encouragement of suicide to another young man via electronic communications
Aardman (Kansas City)
@David nobody is protecting speech that is designed to harass or cause damage or is slanderous. That wasn’t the case here.
David (Westfield NJ)
@Christian and Aardman Although not the case here, at least one of the advocates quoted argued that no out of school speech should be prohibited.
Laume (Chicago)
If this took place in say, the 1970s or 1980s, there would be no photo or other evidence of the statements, and they would be only rumors or just forgotten. Life would move on without spontaneous details from one’s past resurfacing to ruin one’s life years later. Unless of course the sentiments were written on a piece of paper and passed as a note during class, but even then the worst I could imagine happening would be the teacher intercepting the note and reading it to the class and getting a detention. It would be gossiped about for a couple days at most and then likely forgotten.
Religionistherootofallevil (NY)
This story shows such a failure of the school and university officials who have scapegoated a teenager. So many “teachable moments” squandered.
JohnH (Boston area)
It is, I guess, a fortunate fact that no permanent capture was made of my on- or off-campus speech during my formative years. I indeed, did say things that mirrored the young woman's outburst. "Speech" in those days was just that, technically the instantaneous creation of a sequenced variation of air pressure, carrying information, that dissipated as soon as it was released. Any "chaos" caused by such speech, from a youth, might have been resolved quite quickly by argument, or perhaps a brief tussle. But it's really different now, in ways impossible for our far sighted Founding Fathers to have foreseen, not dissimilar to the rights granted over 200 years ago to bearers of muskets, now distorted to apply to assault weapons. Those brief, childish explosions of anger, petulance or frustration, captured instantly, can be instantly spread in harmful ways, and can and will persist forever. Tough question, unlikely to be resolved in any nuanced way by this judicial pathway, at least at this time.
Chris (Brooklyn)
When I was in high school in New York City in the late '70s and early '80s, there were probably about a thousand bands -- one of which was rather overtly named after the dean of discipline of my high school -- made up entirely of fellow NYC high school students that you could go see performing at bars and clubs all around the city, and whose own speech probably curled the hair of any teacher or administrator who happened to hear it. I don't recall a single instance when a member of one of these bands was disciplined for these performances. In fact, a lot of kids used such "extracurricular" activity as components of their successful applications to prestigious colleges.
Aardman (Kansas City)
@Chris In the 60’s we had The Fugs to thank for that. Last I heard they’re STILL performing, or at least some of them are.
George N. Wells (Dover, NJ)
Even in my 70's I can remember the social pressures and exclusions of High School culture. While the idea that pressure leads to success, the reality is that High School culture was, and apparently still is, toxic. Even the parts of school that are supposed to be "fun" are often centers of intense pressure with clear lines that create Us v. Them conditions. Add to that the hazing of those who don't quite make the cut. The teachers and administrators all successfully survived the pressure-cooker environment and consider it not only normal, but healthy. They also consider themselves to be omni-powerful inside and outside the academic community. The culture of "don't you dare challenge authority" looms large and exists well beyond the limits of the legal authority of the school system. Free Speech is but a small part of the issue. The real issue is who has the power to regulate the life and thinking of another human being. Our lives are filled with people who assume that they have total control of our lives simply because we go to this school, work for that company, belong to that church, live on this street,... and they can dictate our behavior 100% of the time. Where is the line that allows me do do what I want without repercussions from others who don't like me or what I do or say, as long as the actions and statements are legal.
Eric (Washington, DC)
@George N. Wells when I worked in schools I learned two things quickly: 1) don't make a threat you're unwilling to keep and therefore 2) don't devise a punishment disproportionate to the "crime." Students can say and do rash, stupid things. If you respond in a measured way, they are also totally capable of recognizing reasonable consequences. When you blow things out of proportion just to be vindictive, you send the wrong message and become just another bully. It sounds like this court case topic needs to be hashed out, but in this specific instance the school was way out of line.
Reality (Midwest)
This is the question of the day. In a context where kids do not have the money to challenge schools legally, these cases do not rise to the NY Times pages. Several years ago, I attempted to call another mom about a bigoted image that was shown on a school bus using a sixth grader's phone in her own hand. My daughter called it out as wrong on the bus. She did not let it go, and confronted the other girl who had the image on her phone the next day as well as told the teacher. I called the other mom, whom I have known since our girls were little. I started by saying my daughter might have gone overboard in trying to police the bus, but suggested those images could get a child in "big trouble." The retaliation was swift and sure. The other mom started to attack my child and report all the gossip she had ever heard about my child. I said it was idle gossip and could we stick to the issue. How can we raise good people in a hard world? It did not work. The other mother just defended and defended the indefensible. The school eventually caught a "ring" of these bigoted meme makers. It is impossible to resolve these things in normal ways. Much more is happening now during the pandemic, including a new generation of predators using phones for teenage impulses. I feel there should be a standard for when school discipline can be challenged in court. Schools can abuse power, but they have to have some authority to enforce civility. Parents, Lori Loughlin types, cannot manage this.
Reader (Westchester)
@Reality As a teacher I agree that it is ridiculous how parents and other adults no longer work together to confront bad behavior. Although part of me wonders- is it perhaps that we often have adults taking punishments to the extreme- so now parents, afraid of things being blown out of proportion, are on the defensive all the time?
Ted (Rural New York State)
IMO, if "school" is not often, or at least sometimes "disrupted", then often, or at least sometimes, "learning" is impaired. Additionally, attempting to throttle "angry" speech - apparently in this case simply because of the use of one of the various particular words of the four letter variety - and importantly, based on the facts presented, with no clear intent, nor obvious factual proof of threat or disruption - very obviously tramples on free speech. So in this case, protecting the speech - and particularly the right of the student to enjoy free, off-campus (both physical and virtual) speech - is more important than protecting whatever slight and or harm the institution in this case is trying to prove it has suffered.
Max T. Furr (Virginia)
Before the rise of social media and the ensuing maelstrom of propaganda (fake news) I was a diehard from the John Stewart Mill School of Free Speech, but I've had to adjust. I agree with the school district only in the case of a student posting false information as a fact that is damaging to the school's or an employee's reputation. Opinions and statements of fact should never be silenced but falsehoods should be handled in the same manner as one would handle personally libelous statements. This is because they poison the community's and ultimately the nation's pool of factual ideas.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Max T. Furr Damaging a government institution’s reputation is the primary thing protected by the First Amendment. There are already libel and slander laws protecting individuals.
Rumorless (Houston)
Libel and slander protect the subject of falsehoods. They do not protect the recipients. The commenter is saying we need to protect the recipients too. Even if there is no person that is the subject, if it's a falsehood, the recipients should be able to prosecute as a class. For example, if the President said that inhaling bleach is a cure Coronavirus, the people who heard him should be able to sue, to protect themselves, their families, and other people who may believe him. Falsehoods cause damage, not just to potential subjects, but to the minds of the recipients. Over time, repeated and echoed falsehoods cause more damage. If we were to treat mental health on par with physical health, then we could come to see certain public falsehoods as slow insidious assaults that tangle the gray matter of some recipients, impairing their ability to see reality -a blinding, really. Admittedly, litigating this seems utterly hopeless. I'd hope we would reserve litigation for truly vile falsehoods or ones that immediately and predictably reach millions of people. There are plenty to choose from.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Rumorless Mental illness is not caused by lies; it’s caused by mental illness. Anyway, when the target of a lie is a government institution, what you’re advocating is a concept called “political libel,” and it’s not by accident that we no longer outlaw that form of speech. Moreover, telling someone to sit on it, in so many words, isn’t even potentially libel.
Jon (San Diego)
The Student's post "sent to 250" others was seen by a far greater number than 250 due to societies habt and younger users compulsion of "sharing" online. Without a doubt, this item was all over the high school, and it would be disruptive at the time. As a long time ACLU supporter, I am glad they are involved, but this particular issue while important for the individual, but poses a greater threat to schools. Is it possible to determine if the post was disruptive to the educational process? Will this and other like postings go beyond disruption and become corrosive? Undoubtedly the Student has the right to express her views, but in sending it to others who must attend a place by compulsory law, we're any of their individual rights harmed? And is the High Schools mission harmed with the post? And if students are able to express their views about not making a sports squad, what other teams, bands, plays, and others will see a furthering of public grievance. Making and not making a group is part of high school and life, and allowing grievances such as this to go unchecked harms the individual and the group.
OneView (Boston)
@Jon By your standards, the "mission" of a high school is somehow different from the "mission" of some other governmental organization. The message was only "disruptive" because it criticized the school. Should all criticism thus be punishable. What lesson are you teaching THEN? (obviously, the one YOU learned) By your standards, whistleblowers should be punished for their conduct because, by their nature, they are "disrupting" the trust in our public institutions.
Actmath prof (Ohio)
You honestly think students should be prevented from expressing their displeasure at not making a sports team? My god! How in the world does this disrupt anything?
James (Newport)
This is an important case where clear lines need to be drawn. At a school where I taught formerly, some high school students had a costume party at a private home where one kid dressed up as one of the special ed students from the school and his faculty handler. Photos were taken, and many laughed along. Others, however, were angered and turned over the photos to school administrators where these kids attended. One student attacked the culprits viciously on social media and even went to the local news media. The culprits wanted her to be suspended, while the angered student wanted the culprits to be suspended. Then the family lawyers got involved. In the middle - in a no win situation - was the school. Either way they ruled, they would be sued, and there would be winners and losers no matter what the outcome. I'm sure this kind of drama is playing out in schools across the country.
Ted Ulinski (Bernalillo, NM)
When we abdicate raising our children via "in loco parentis", then we must accept society rule. This is the difference with application to minors who aren't fully developed and need socialization. Takes a village.
Langej (London)
They don't understand; school are part of the criminal justice system - or at least that's what some people think.
Midwest (South Bend, IN)
This is an easy case, as the Circuit Court found. The school overreached and violated the student's First Amendment right to free speech
newageblues (Maryland)
Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, siding with a principal who had suspended a student for displaying a banner that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Professor Driver said that suggested a blind spot. “There is at least one major area where Chief Justice Roberts’s defense of the First Amendment is notably lax: student speech,” The blind spot might have more to do with the drug war's free pass to violate basic rights, so memorably invoked (implicitly of course) when the Supremes ruled there is no right to use medicinal cannabis, even if necessary to save life.
OneView (Boston)
@newageblues No, it had to do with "Jesus" not the drug war. Roberts' blind spot is religion.
Ibby (Michigan)
@OneView To be fair, the man has more spots blind than not.
Erik (San Diego)
As a former public school administrator for 10 years, I can say a ruling on this issue is needed. Unfortunately many administrators I know have their own personal story of a connection to being attacked or slandered on-line. Ultimately the disrespect over the years drove me to the private sector as it wore me down. I have great respect for all the educators out there who maintain in this climate.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Erik Being fed up with school, softball, cheer, and “everything” is not an attack, slanderous, or disrespectful. It seems to me your departure from the public school system was likely mutually beneficial.
Bill (Texas)
It’s off campus and not part of an extra curricular activity. Schools are not the arbiters of good or bad behavior after the bell rings.
Les Techno (ny)
The difference in these new cases is that she was caught by the medium. In the old days, you would get on the phone and call a friend and curse the teacher out. No written record of that. Nowadays kids forget that the digital media is permanent. So this boils down to punishing the student for using social media to do what students have done for a thousand years.... but distinguishing between cyberbullying and this will turn on exactly what was said, a ever-present line drawing problem.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Les Techno Sharing a message that was explicitly intended to be ephemeral is equivalent to surreptitiously recording and sharing a group conversation. It’s not illegal, but it should color our response to the statement. New technology should update our norms, not shatter them.
Raul (NH)
I have an odd feeling that many of the responses to this article will be written by people who have never had to address an email, post or other form of social media comment submitted by an upset and angry student and then had to defend actions taken to the student and his/her parents. (Freedom of speech is normally brought up in those conversations. It's been used to defend some of the most egregious posts imaginable.) It will be fascinating to see if the Supreme Court draws a distinction between what is harmless and what constitutes more of a threat to a school or an individual. Most likely, it will be left up to each individual school create its own definition and to have legal counsel be able to defend it.
Adrian Elliott (Spring Valley, Wi)
@Raul I don't agree with her post, but I also don't agree with over zealous Teachers/Administrators trying to run people's lives. If she did something illegal (nothing that is shown here), there are ways of dealing with that. Not just an arbitrary decision by someone who thinks they are law enforcement.
Raul (NH)
@Adrian Elliott Totally agree with you, Adrian, on this particular case and that it was overreach on the school district's part. But my point is, and I may not have articulated it appropriately, is what happens when there are cases that are more finely shaded? I've sat in meetings where parents have had a lawyer present in attempt to reverse a decision that resulted in their student's suspension from school because of social media comment that was made on a student's personal account. Their defense was that it fell within the student's First Amendment Rights. Among the questions the lawyer asked was to see school district's policy that defined a threat. In this case, it took hours and hours of meetings to come to a final decision. So basically I was wondering if the Supreme Court's decision will clarify the issue of students' rights as it pertains to personal social media posts or simply make things more complicated? I kind of wish that the case being presented was different in nature.
jpw (USA)
Constitutional issues aside; At what point do we realize children are children? Teenagers are teenagers without the (hopefully some day) developed judgement of adults? Just look at the current adult examples of adult behavior on social media; glass houses anyone. How many foolish mistakes of immaturity on social media are required to destory someones life? There was no threat to the school, no threat to other students, just some barely a teenager expressing frustration albet poorly on social media. If she had just expressed this out loud to her friends it would have been a big nothing and forgotten. Perhaps some more mature authority figure taking her aside and saying try harder next time and skip the profanity would have been a more appropriate outcome.
Barbara McCarthy (Jackson Heights, Queens)
@jpw When will we realize that children have rights? Why does a person who is 17 and 364 days old different from a person one day older. The girl in question used vulgar language and exhibited poor impulse control, but she did not incite violence, threaten anyone or cause mental or physical harm to a person. It's stupid speech certainly, but stupid is not a crime. Children need adult guidance and rules but they also need respect.
OneView (Boston)
@jpw One. See the story about the young woman from Virginia who used the "N-word" in a celebration as a 15 year old and lost her slot a a major university when another student released the 3-second video four years later to "punish" her for her error.
TP (Kinnelon, NJ)
@jpw You mean like her parents - who instead went on to sue?
therev56 (Reading, PA)
Oddly, the tweet confirms the Coach's judgement. Ironic, at least.
Everyman (US)
@therev56, Reading, Penn. Don’t assume the rest of the students on the squad don’t use this same language or wouldn’t have responded in the same way. Seriously.
Her free speech off-campus should not be denied.
John (Nibarger)
My main question is comment from parents, who are the actual authority in this scenario. As a legal principle, I don't support government including schools continually growing in authority. As a parent though, my child has obligation to family principles. I am aghast that this devolves into student vs School Board and going to the Supreme Court.
Cathy (Hopewell Junction N.Y.)
In the news this week was the story of another cheerleader who lost a scholarship over a social media post that included a racial slur. Another student called her out on it, and she faced school disciplinary action. Clearly, using a racial slur is different from giving the finger to a high school to express frustration. But it shows that at best the question is complicated, and that looking to the Supreme Court for guidance - a one size fits all answer to a no size fits all question - won’t be definitive in the least.
@Cathy My understanding in the other case, per the NYT, is that the student-cheerleader had made the post in 2016 when she was in 9th grade. A classmate posted as the student-cheerleader had more recently expressed support of Black Lives Matter. The University of Tennessee rescinded her admission.
Kathlyne (Texas)
@SLM They did not rescind her admission, she withdrew under intense pressure from the university. And her classmate shared her 4 year old post to "teach her a lesson."
OneView (Boston)
@Cathy I'm not clear on WHY you think that's different? Do we not have free speech when it comes to racial slurs? This is cut and dried. The government cannot punish someone for something they said unless it puts others in immediate, actual physical harm (not some, "oh, my feelings are hurt" type of harm). When did we lose the First Amendment? ("I abhor everything you say, but I'll defend your right to say it to the end")
skepto (lala)
Free speech and libel and slander are two different things. Both need to be enforced.
Jus' Me, NYT (Round Rock, TX)
That this girl thinks she has 250 "friends," is what is truly frightening.
James (Newport)
@Jus' Me, NYT She might, though. Many high schools have 3,000 or more students, and in the course of 8 classes, sports, activities, and other social events, it is easy for a student to have that many "friends" online that they interact with in person as well.
Ibby (Michigan)
@Jus' Me, NYT 73 people thinking this adds anything to the discussion is what frightens me.
CATango (Ventura)
Interesting and a bit antithetical that the article pointing out the victory won't show the actual offending screen grab.
memyownself (Upstate NY)
1) A school is more than the administration and/or faculty. 2) The school administration & faculty have no right or responsibility to monitor student speech off campus. On the other hand - children need to group up; the student should have considered how the students & faculty would regard being described as these were. Exclusion from the activities & groups which were "cursed" is up to the other students & coach/teachers, and strikes me as being most appropriate.
Robert H. Searcy (California)
The student used a "bad" word on social media, not on school grounds, not on school time, and was suspended from cheerleading for a year? Somebody in that school has serious power issues. If this was about adults, it would not be an issue. Children should be under the restrictive thumb of all adults all the time? All children are collective property of every adult and have no rights? Bad judgement by adults must now be litigated? A waste of time and money.
James (Newport)
@Robert H. Searcy This kind of thing does happen to adults , too... they can lose their jobs from things posted on their private social media.
Catherine (Louisiana)
@Robert H. Searcy most sports require participants to sign a code of conduct document and outline consequences if violated. I agree it is a waste of time and money because her parents should have supported the school's decision and also given her a consequence for her behavior. This is entitlement at the highest level.
B. Rothman (NYC)
@James But the difference is that THEY ARE ADULTS NOT ADOLESCENTS. Presumably they are thought to have more self control. Often though, only the threat of job loss provides impulse control.
Robert (New York)
It's only a question of whether the school is allowed to do this because they can do this, and they can only do this because of the internet. If you imagine an ephemeral Snapchat to be like a phone call, and a screenshot preserving it to be a recording of that phone call, it's preposterous - not to mention deeply alarming - to think that a school would be disciplining students' crude gripes 40 years ago. How exactly are kids supposed to complain to their friends about things nowadays? If your advice is to never say anything online that you don't want to be used against you, you're essentially saying you're okay with continuous wiretapping of most if not the vast majority of a student's communication. A good reason for a court to step in and hit the brakes.
If you post something online you’ve made it public. If someone secretly records a conversation and shares it, that’s entirely different. Thus your analogy doesn’t work.
OneView (Boston)
@CM No, the analogy is correct. The Snapchat message would have "disappeared" from general view (yes, nothing truly disappears) except that it was recorded by another student which is the equivalent of recording a phone conversation. We have social and legal conventions that mean people are unlikely and reluctant to record phone conversations, we should try to have the same social and legal conventions with social media. Just because it's "easier" doesn't make it "different" (that's typical problem people have with technology they think is "revolutionary", most often its an easier way to do something we've always done; e.g. this comments section is just a fancy "letters to the editors". It's easy, but it's not different.
Paul (Ithaca)
There is nothing 'harmful' about disruptive language when the targets are institutional policies, and the language does not advocate violence. There is everything 'harmful' about threatening and harassing language targeting individuals; those are forms of violence. The distinction can be made. But the school administrators failed to make it, because they place a challenge to their institutional authority as a personal threat - a tell-tale sign of poor, leadership.
OneView (Boston)
@Paul No, language is not violence. Violence is violence. Remember "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me."? That we have allowed speech to somehow be equated with "violence" is EXACTLY the problem. Once you open the Pandora's Box that there are some kinds of speech that can be suppressed because someone is "hurt" by that speech, ALL speech becomes problematic because someone, somewhere, might, someday, be offended. These are disastrous shoals the liberal academy has thrown themselves on to the chilling affect that there is no longer free speech on campus.
Catherine (Louisiana)
@Paul schools are also in the business of teaching children right and wrong. Sports are good vehicles for that. Throwing a vulgar tantrum when you are denied something you want is not acceptable behavior in society.
Publius (Taos, NM)
@OneView This is complicated, but using Donald Trump's "stand back and stand by" response of encouragement to The Proud Boy, a gun-toting right-wing group that has engaged in violence in support of Trump's subsequent false claims of election fraud, words can hurt you - ask the stabbing victims in DC if you doubt it. I think this case is totally different and the cheerleader in question has every right to engage in a display of vapid ignorance - that's protected speech. But incitement to violence that leads to physical attacks, that's something altogether different. But the public seems split on this as 74 million Americans appear to think it's "OK."
Richard Scott (Ottawa)
For a person who wants to be a cheerleader, she is proving why she isn't worthy of the position. Let her protest all she wants - about everything! See where that gets her when she has the first amendment by her side and nothing else.
Don (Green Valley AZ)
@Richard Scott Uh perhaps on her side will be the tens if not hundreds of other students at that school that are not all that enamored with American high-school or its young adult culture. I was glad to be done with it some 50 years ago. :-)
Richard Scott (Ottawa)
@Don I'm not sure how your experience of 50 years ago is relevant to this.
Paul (Brooklyn)
Freedoms in our Constitution including the Bill of Rights are not absolute but nevertheless are very sacred. One has the freedom to say what they want but cannot yell fire in a crowded theater. In this case I think vulgar language/gestures and/or libel or slander come into play. The student may be disciplined for those and not what she said/posted outside the school.
John D Warnock (Thelma KY)
Was she wearing her cheerleader uniform or some other school logo that would identify her as a cheerleader from that school that could be misconstrued as her being a spokesperson for that school? "Conduct Unbecoming..." can be found in more than one Student Handbook, Employee Handbook, or other Codes of Conduct of a wide variety of organizations. When she became a cheerleader did she sign any document or take an oath to abide by a Code of Conduct? Freedom of Speech is one thing, but when it reflects poorly on an organization to which you belong, that is another matter entirely. No one forced her to become a cheerleader.
Richard (Madelia, Minnesota)
Intimidation via social media is destroying this country by its corrosive effect on relationships. I hope the learned justices can assess the damage done to developing children and young adults when they protect anti-social and bullying behavior among the young. What value is there in protecting speech that is by nature an attack on someone else? Look what twitter attacks have done to the body politic in 2020. Must we protect damaging speech that has no other social redeeming value? Running a school includes protecting ALL students.
Clio (NY Metro)
The student in question didn’t bully or threaten anyone—she was simply expressing her frustration.
Everyman (US)
@richard in Minn. Read the article to see what she actually did and wrote.
Don (Green Valley AZ)
To the school administrators across the land at what age and location does a person's 1st amendment rights become null and void ? I am guessing the new court will rule unless the speech (and any associated behavior) are disrupting your local school site, it will be beyond the scope of your control. And the suspension a violation of the student's rights. Influence as long as it doesn't impact the student's ability to attend school will probably be ruled as still possible.
J (New England)
This case is ripe for Supreme Court consideration. And hopefully rule on behalf of protected speech. The obvious overreach of schools to censor speech -especially off campus- shakes the foundation of citizens' rights and the country. The next (il)logical step: Parents of students? Siblings of students, friends from other school districts? Now though, was the student wearing her cheerleading outfit during her short-lived online rant? That could *possibly* color the issue, ... But the school district makes no such claim. Settle the law: Schools and school districts have authority on school grounds/campus and at school sponsored activities. Beyond that, it is the responsibility of parents and/or civil authorities.
Dell (Portland, Oregon)
@J I'm truly interested in this issue and your opinion. Would there be an equivalency between a student wearing a school uniform when deriding administrators and, say, a student texting 250 other students? (I know the article doesn't say 'other students' but I'm trying to get a grip on the issue in general.)
gm (Vermont)
I am a longtime ACLU supporter, but is this a case about free speech or about sportsmanship? Unlike in past eras, cheerleading is now considered a high school sport — and rightly so. So what are the rules and parameters for schools and coaches to discipline players whose behaviors, including speech, are unsportsmanlike? Having now badmouthed, one would assume, the tryouts and the judges' decisions, what if this same girl badmouths her coach? What if she badmouths fellow students on the varsity cheer squad? What if she badmouths those on her own squad? Where does this end? Her speech was public and squarely about a school-related activity. She behaved in an unsportsmanlike way, making unsportsmanlike comments about a sports event (the tryouts) and decision. She suffered the consequences. Without the text of her speech it is difficult to know how squarely she crossed a line. Commen sense suggests that the details matter here — what is said; about what person, persons, or event; in what way; to whom; in what context; with what intent. There need to be rational parameters to distinguish rightly protected speech from bullying, racist comments, and unsportsmanlike behaviors so that we can respond appropriately.
John R (Ireland)
Excellent post. I thoroughly concur. Everything we do has consequences. The idea that you can say one thing on a school premises and face a sanction but do the exact same thing off the school premises and not face a sanction is bizarre especially when the matter relates to a school activity. Nor is it good preparation for life in general. Try harshly criticising your employer on a public forum and see if your free speech prevents a negative outcome for you. I understand that this is an entirely different scenario to an employer/employee relationship but students must understand that negative criticism of your school abs school teachers on an on-line forum may have adverse consequences for you. It goes to the issue of school discipline and it directly relates to an activity within the school. Drawing too strict a line in the sand may be a bullies charter.
Paul S (Oregon)
You make a lot of assumptions given that you claim not to know what the student said. They did describe her private message to friends in the article which only became public when one of those friends shared it outside of the group. It’s unbelievable to me that this is even debatable. What lesson about the functioning of our democracy are we sending if we allow informers amongst the student body to inform on other students for expressing a lack of enthusiasm for the authorities? And you want to sacrifice our liberal democracy for what? School spirit?
Jomo (San Diego)
@gm: Also note that the punishment the girl received was limited to her on-going participation in the activity. There is no fine or imprisonment involved. She's not being singled out for political speech unrelated to the school's mission. It seems most akin to a coach benching a player as punishment for an unacceptable outburst on the court/field. As you say, sportsmanship is part of the educational lesson here. Would it be OK if the students all stand and display middle fingers at the opposing team when they enter the venue?
BTO (Somerset, MA)
Freedom of speech was created to protect someone from speaking against the government, which in the days when the bill of rights was created could include the death penalty from the crown. The cheerleader has a right to speak against the school, so long as her comments were not threatening in any way. However the school could have felt threatened by her action and words, so it's only right to have this case brought before the supreme court to make that determination.
Kuba (Columbus OH)
@BTO I’d say the school should grow some. “Feeling” threatened by what teens probably say a million times per day all around this country is idiocracy squared. It makes no sense, it’s as if those administrators just realized how teens are.
OneView (Boston)
@BTO A "school" does not have "feelings". That's the crux of the problem. Some administrator may have felt "hurt" but her comments, but I am not sure if someone should be punished because her words "hurt someone's feelings".