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Supreme Court rules for Pennsylvania cheerleader in school free speech case

Microphones set up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a Pennsylvania high school violated the First Amendment rights of a cheerleader by suspending her from her team for using vulgar language that criticized the school on social media.

The 8-1 opinion upheld lower court rulings against Mahanoy Area High School’s decision to suspend then-student Brandi Levy from her junior varsity cheerleading squad over two Snapchat posts she sent while off school grounds.

The justices had weighed whether a 1969 court decision, which held that public schools have the ability to regulate certain speech, applied in this case, when the speech had occurred off campus.

The decision Wednesday said “courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech, for doing so may mean the student cannot engage in that kind of speech at all.”

The ruling also said that a school “will rarely stand in loco parentis” — in the place of the student’s parent — “when a student speaks off campus.”

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