Free Speech and the Cheerleader

The Supreme Court is hearing a case involving schools and free speech. The case was brought by a cheerleader who was suspended from her cheerleading team. She did not make the varsity team and posted a photo of herself and a friend online flipping the bird to the camera with the caption” Fuck school, Fuck softball, Fuck cheer, Fuck everything.” The school deemed her post “disruptive to cheerleader morale” and she was suspended from the team. The post was made while she was not at school. The questions: Did the suspension violate her right to free speech? Can schools punish kids students for online but off-campus speech?

Was her free speech violated? There was a case in 1969 that decided students have First Amendment rights at school unless school officials reasonably think it will cause disruption at school. I don’t think this qualifies under those requirements. If a student posting Fuck School online qualifies as a reasonable cause of disruption at school, students across the country are at risk to be suspended. Is it really disruptive to “cheerleader morale” for a girl to vent her frustration at not making varsity? Does someone saying “Fuck cheerleading” really disrupt morale so much that it warrants being suspended? Is this really the type of disruption the Tinker case was speaking to? It sees like a very harsh punishment for no real crime. The speech was not meant to cause protest or disruption at school. It was just a girl venting her frustration at not making a team. I think it would have been better for the school to stay out if it and for the cheer coach to make her run laps.

Can schools punish kids for online but off-campus speech? I don’t think so. I think there should be consequences if a student is bullying or posting threats online. I just don’t think the school should be involved. Once you are off school grounds, you are no longer under the authority of the school. You are under the authority of your parent/guardian. Bullying and threats online would be under the authority of law enforcement, not school administrators. School should not have this much control over a student’s life. Students need to be able to express themselves freely at home and online without worrying about being suspended from school because a teacher was offended by the speech and deems it “disruptive”. If the Supreme Court decides that this minor offense meets that standard schools will be able to suspend any student who says anything negative about school anywhere. That is a dangerous precedent to set.

What do you think?

Was her free speech violated?

Should schools be able to punish kids for things they say/post online?


18 thoughts on “Free Speech and the Cheerleader

  1. If you say things like that online you’re taking a risk. I believe she knew there might repercussions if it got back to her. Was her freedom of speech violated? I don’t think so. What if she said something hateful or racist – what if she directed her anger in a different way? What if she had said fuck this or that teacher? She’s still free to say those things, but she might think twice about doing so in the future. There are healthy ways to vent frustration and unhealthy ways. I’m not sure I disagree here. She only got suspended from the team after all. If I say shit about my company online and it got leaked to the press it could mean my job – there’s a brand and other people to think about. So long as I’m working for them – what I do and say in my personal time matters to my company. That’s fair – that’s the contract I signed. I can still say and do what I like but the company are free to fire me for it. Given her post was directed at the school I think it’s fair.

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  2. I don’t think anyone should be punished for anything they say. Free speech is free speech. However, in the world of social media, this becomes a hot bed issue. My daughter has studied this topic for moot court and mock trial competitions, so I’m familiar with this in both the real and the manufactured. If someone has signed a code of conduct or such, it becomes a different issue…not free speech but breach of contract. I think we should be careful of what we say in the heat of the moment. I think we must fully decide the ramifications of speech. When does it become libel? So much to chew over with this one. Excellent post and food for thought!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It depends on what the code of conduct pledge says though…technically. I agree…a kid should be able to express displeasure. But what if the kid is lying? Or what if the kid starts a thing to storm the school? There’s all sorts of loopholes.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t think a code of conduct should legally cover what you do away from school. If the kid plans something illegal that would be the responsibility of someone besides a school administrator

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Does an employer have the right to tell an employee to not badmouth the workplace when not at work? What about a virtual school situation where you’re never actually on premises?

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  3. It’s a thorny issue. I’ll be interested in hearing the outcome of the case. I think the girl was stupid to make that post because you know she knew it would get back to the people she was unhappy with. I don’t think the suspension was a bad thing, except that the offense didn’t occur in school so not necessarily appropriate for the school to do something. Social media has muddied a lot of social conventions. Was it truly free speech being violated by the suspension? Free speech is used a lot now as a defense for offensive speech. I don’t know that that was the intention of the framers of the Constitution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think because it is a public school it falls under the Tinker precedent and the question is if it was really a disruption to the school. There has to be some divide between home and school. Kids can’t worry that social media means every aspect of their life is under school supervision.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you that the school shouldn’t have the right to punish the student for speech outside of school. The punishment also seems excessive because like you said students all around the country have said something similar. When my daughter was in high school she tweeted or posted a picture of her and another girl giving the finger. It was brought to my attention by her club swim coach. He said he knew I wouldn’t approve and he wanted me to know what my “sweet” girl was doing online. I was horrified. The post was directed at a certain guy who had said something mean to them and it was outside of school and swimming. The swim coach talked to her about her online presence because she was being recruited for D1 schools, which look at social media. I’m interested to see what the Supreme Court decides.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very curious about the results. They seem very hesitant to write anything too broad. I agree that kids should be careful about posts future employers and such might see, but it is not the school’s job to monitor that

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It really depends on which institution she represents. If she posted anonymously, perhaps she will get away with it. But identifying herself as a member of a school has its consequences as well as what she uploads in speech and images.

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    1. But there is precedent that students have the right to free speech unless there is a reasonable expectation it will cause a disruption. Also, can the school restrict speech away from school?

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