MAHANOY AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, PETITIONER v. B. L. | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

"[w]hether [Tinker], which holds that public school officials may regulate speech that would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school, applies to student speech that occurs off campus.”

Action

"While public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech, the special interests offered by the school are not sufficient to overcome B. L.’s interest in free expression in this case."

(This audio from Free Speech Out Loud is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all other podcast apps.)

Facts/Syllabus

"Mahanoy Area High School student B. L. failed to make the school’s varsity cheerleading squad. While visiting a local convenience store over the weekend, B. L. posted two images on Snapchat, a social media application for smartphones that allows users to share temporary images with selected friends. B. L.’s posts expressed frustration with the school and the school’s cheerleading squad, and one contained vulgar language and gestures. When school officials learned of the posts, they suspended B. L. from the junior varsity cheerleading squad for the upcoming year. After unsuccessfully seeking to reverse that punishment, B. L. and her parents sought relief in federal court, arguing inter alia that punishing B. L. for her speech violated the First Amendment. The District Court granted an injunction ordering the school to reinstate B. L. to the cheerleading team. Relying on Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, to grant B. L.’s subsequent motion for summary judgment, the District Court found that B. L.’s punishment violated the First Amendment because her Snapchat posts had not caused substantial disruption at the school. The Third Circuit affirmed the judgment, but the panel majority reasoned that Tinker did not apply because schools had no special license to regulate student speech occurring off campus."

Cite this page