Should Schools Regulate Student Speech Online and Out of School?
Have you heard the Supreme Court is going to decide a case about student speech all because of a fourteen year old cheerleader's profanity laced Snapchat post after she disappointingly didn't make her school's varsity cheerleading squad? There's two amazing things about this story.
One, it may be the most significant case on student speech in 50 years. And secondly, that parents and the school administration, teachers and coaches, ya know, the adults in the room couldn't figure this out without dragging it through the courts.
According to Fox 4 Kansas City here's what happened:
Levy and a friend were at a convenience store in her hometown of Mahonoy City, Pennsylvania, when she took to social media to express her frustration at being kept on her high school’s junior varsity cheerleading squad for another year.
“F——— school f——— softball f——— cheer f——— everything,” Levy wrote, in a post that also contained a photo in which she and a classmate raised their middle fingers.
The post was brought to the attention of the team’s coaches, who suspended Levy from the cheerleading team for a year.
She was a teenager being a teenager. I think many of us, any age, can relate to working hard at something and the disappointment that comes with not having it work out how you want. And I'd bet many of us in high school, may have shared some thoughts along the same line with the same colorful language, with our friends after a similar experience. The difference, we didn't have a social media network to share it and the coach, teacher, authority figure we were angry with never heard about it.
The thing we all seem to have a problem understanding when it comes to free speech is, free speech has consequences. And it only protects us from consequences from the government. I can get on my radio show and share any opinion, and as along as it's not obscene, the government can't do anything about. Yet, I'm not protected at all from the consequences Townsquare Media can impose on me if they feel I'm not representing the company in the proper light. And those consequences go beyond my program to how I conduct myself in the community and on social media.
Do I think the young lady should have faced some consequences from airing her dirty laundry on social media? Maybe. Mainly for learning the life lesson that your words have consequences. Especially when expressed publicly. Do I think the coaching staff overreacted by suspending her for a whole year? Yes, it seems like a harsh penalty. Especially for a teenager just popping off. Her parents filing a lawsuit saying her suspension violated her free speech rights, that I think is just off the charts.
I would have liked the young lady to meet with the coaches and have coaches explain (or explain again) why she didn't make varsity squad. And then pointedly ask her, did she really mean "f--- cheer" in her post? And explain, that frankly, they could take that has her no longer wanting to be on the cheerleading squad. And that words, even when you're frustrated, have consequences. If they then thought that lesson needed to be driven home with a suspension for a couple of weeks, a month, then Ok.
I would have liked the parents instead of filing a lawsuit. Instead of making this case a big deal. To at a certain point sit their daughter down and tell her, yeah, the penalty your paying for what you did is way to extreme. It's crappy. But life isn't fair. People aren't always fair. And yeah, your right to free speech, doesn't come without consequences.
So why is the Supreme Court hearing this case, and why is it important? At issue is whether or not schools can discipline kids for speech outside the school building. Levy's school district, education groups, the Biden Administration and anti-bullying groups think appeals court decision in Levy's favor went to far. (The courts ruled in her favor and restored her to the cheerleading squad.)
They want the right to be able to discipline kids for speech. Philip Lee, a University of District of Columbia law professor told Fox 4, that much cyber bullying content is created off campus on computers, iPads and then disseminated via social media so it doesn't make sense to prohibit schools from discipling kids for speech off campus.
And I'd say schools should be able to have some say in how students involved in their sports programs and extra curricular activities, especially those that publicly represent the school, present themselves on social media. Just like my employer can.
The ACLU, which is representing Levy, says the problem with laws that allow schools to govern off campus student speech, is that it can stifle non-threatening, non-harassing, speech expressing frustration like Levy's. And could potentially regulate political and religious speech.
What I find frustrating about all of this is that it becomes this either or choice. Schools potentially can become big brother monitoring what their students say off campus at all times and discipline them for it. Or schools get their hands tied behind their backs and might not be able to discipline students for hurtful speech that needs to be addressed.
Wouldn't it just be easier to apply some common sense on all sides? It seems like between educators and parents it shouldn't be that difficult to figure out when a school should get involved for discipling a child's speech outside of school. And when maybe they should let something go. Maybe it should concern us that we can't seem to do that as a society.