Can a school penalize your child for off-campus speech?

On Behalf of | Feb 12, 2021 | Education Law |

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed that it would hear a case about whether a school may punish children for off-campus speech. This First Amendment issue came up in a case involving a cheerleader in Pennsylvania. According to the story, the junior varsity cheerleader was suspended from her team after using the “F-word” on Snapchat repeatedly.

In the case, the young woman allegedly stated, “f- – – school f- – – softball f- – – cheer f- – – everything,” because she didn’t make the varsity team. The school officials then suspended her from the squad she did belong to for a year, stating that there were rules banning this behavior.

Can schools regulate what your children say?

Technically, yes, but only in some circumstances. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools had the option of regulating speech only if it would substantially and materially disrupt the discipline and work of the school. In another case, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Philadelphia ruled differently when it said that the 1969 ruling wouldn’t apply to off-campus speech.

It’s not yet clear what will happen in this case, but this does show that the school may have some right to control what your children can or cannot say, at least when your child is on the campus or violating a specific school rule.

The rules aren’t clear when it comes to your child’s right to speak out

Unfortunately, the rules aren’t clear when it comes to what a school can or cannot do with regard to what your child says. The best thing to do is to err on the side of caution and not to make statements, especially online, that could be construed as threatening or harmful to others.

If something your child says is captured online, it could be shared. Now is a good time to talk to them about not saying anything that they wouldn’t want to say to someone in person, which may help prevent them from posting on social media or other accounts where their words could later be used against them.

If you feel that a school is unfairly regulating your child’s speech, it’s a good idea to look into learning more about your legal options.

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