Americans Don’t Want Schools To Punish Off-Campus Speech
As the U.S. Supreme Court considers the limits of public schools’ authority to penalize speech made outside the walls of the country’s faltering government-run institutions of occasional learning, polling says most people want to leave kids free to speak their minds. Only one-in-four adults would let schools punish students for their online comments. A damning indictment of public education might be found in the single group to voice majority support for extracurricular censorship: children being taught in those schools.
“Just one-quarter of Americans (25%) believe that public schools should be allowed to punish students for what they say online, outside of school,” The Economist/YouGov reported last week of polling results. “About half (52%) say that schools should not be allowed to punish students for this, and 23% are not sure.”
Americans were asked their opinions on the issue as the Supreme Court mulls oral arguments over punishment meted out by a Pennsylvania public high school to Brandi Levy for comments she made online in 2017, as reported by Reason‘s Damon Root. Then a junior varsity cheerleader who failed to make the varsity squad, she vented her disappointment on Snapchat with a photo of herself and her friend flipping the bird, captioned “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” Her coach suspended Levy from the team for a year for the post. Levy and her family sued and are represented by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer David Cole.
Under the standard set in 1969 in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, public school students enjoy First Amendment protection for their free speech rights while they are on campus unless the speech “would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline and in the operation of the school.” Until recent years it was unusual for schools to try to regulate what students say on weekends and when they are otherwise off school grounds. Now, though, the Internet and especially social media have amplified the reach of everybody’s jibes, jokes, and manifestos. And those inclined towards control are scrambling to punish comments once considered beyond their reach.
“[T]he school district is asking the Supreme Court to essentially decide that all students’ speech, no matter when and where it occurs, is now to be regarded as on campus speech because of its ability to reach and affect the school,” Frank LoMonte, Director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, comm
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