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Court rules Pennsylvania school expelling student for posting song lyrics on Snapchat was First Amendment violation

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An appeal filed by a Pennsylvania student who got expelled from school for a social media post made off campus has been accepted by the US state’s Commonwealth Court.

The court said unanimously that the school district’s 2018 decision violated the First Amendment rights of the student, “G.S.”

We obtained a copy of the ruling for you here.

G.S. was 16 and not only off campus but also out of state, in New Jersey for the Easter holiday, when he, using his own phone, cited a death metal band’s lyrics on his Snapchat account.

The student didn’t clarify the source of the lyrics, but they are identical with the Spite song “Snap,” and contain profanities and the line, “I will fucking kill all of you.”

But the court decided that an apparently angsty teenager’s taste in offensive lyrics shared with about 60 followers on the social network was no reason to expel him from school, especially given the fact the posting was in no way connected to school activities.

Additionally, the quoted lyrics were not aimed at anybody in particular – neither another person, a group of people, or a Snapchat user – in other words, the post was not meant as a threat. But it nevertheless got both the school and local police alerted, eventually leading to the expulsion that has now been overturned.

The court’s ruling, presented by Judge Ellen Ceisler, remarked that the Rose Tree Media School District based its position on the post representing a true threat, that gave this institution the right to expel G.S. But the school district’s own hearing officer did not make such a claim in their August 2018 report about the event.

The officer still recommended removing G.S. from the school, but not because the post was a true threat – rather, because it “materially disrupted class work” and “invaded the rights of others,” among other arguments unrelated to directly threatening behavior.

Taking all this into account, the court found that although the school environment had been disrupted in the wake of the posting and with the reaction to it, the post itself represents constitutionally protected speech that the school cannot use to mete out punishment.

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