A high school cheerleader who was suspended from school in 2017 for writing “f**k cheer” on social media will have her case heard by the Supreme Court. The teenager argues that, by punishing her, the school violated her First Amendment free speech rights.
Back in 2017, Brandi Levy, then 14, did not make the varsity cheerleading team in her freshman year. Frustrated, she went to her Snapchat and uploaded a picture of herself holding up the middle finger. The photo had the statement “f**k school f**k softball f**k cheer f**k everything,” written across it.
Another student took screenshots of the post and showed it to the coach, who then suspended Levy for a whole year arguing that the post violated the cheerleading squad’s rules. The rules prohibit members from saying any “negative information” about cheerleading on online platforms.
“I was frustrated. I was upset. I was angry. And I made a post on Snapchat,” Levy told ABC News.
Levy later successfully sued the school district arguing she should not have been punished for remarks she made outside of school hours. Her post was made on a weekend. She was allowed back in school and reinstated to the cheerleading squad.
Later, a federal appeals court also sided with the teenager, arguing the school district was wrong for punishing Brandi because her remarks were made out-of-school, and it didn’t matter whether it was in violation of the team’s rules or that other students complained.
According to Levy, her post did not even violate the cheerleading rules.
“I think that it didn’t because I was not directing towards any coaches. I didn’t have the school’s name in it. I didn’t have the coaches’ name or any teammates’ name in it,” she said.
Now the case, which will be the first of its kind, will be heard by the Supreme Court later this month. The case is important as it will create a precedent on the boundaries of free speech for students , which can be suppressed under the guise of discipline.
In a brief to the Supreme Court, the Mahanoy Area School District, in Virginia, which covers Levy’s school, argued that the federal appeals court ruling in favor of Levy threatened the ability of teachers and coaches to discipline students countrywide.
“The First Amendment is not a territorial straitjacket that forces schools to ignore speech that disrupts the school environment,” the school district wrote in the brief.
“Coaches and school administrators, not federal courts, should decide whether the coach can bench someone or ask a player to apologize to teammates.”
“The First Amendment is not a tool for micromanaging school determinations,” the brief added.
The case will determine whether the regulation of on-campus speech also applies to off-campus speech. The Supreme Court’s decision in the 1969 landmark Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, set a precedent that school’s are allowed to regulate disruptive on-campus speech.
The 1969 case involved Mary Beth Tinker, then 13, who was suspended in 1965 after she and her friends wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. The school district said they could only return to school after they stopped wearing the armbands.
But the Supreme Court ruled that the black armbands were not disruptive, and wearing them was a free expression, which is protected under the First Amendment.
Levy’s case will be heard by the Supreme Court on April 28.