Supporting Our Students’ Discourse – The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle
Frustrated at being rejected from the varsity cheerleading team, Brandi Levy, a high school student from Mahanoy Area High School in Mahanoy City, Pa., Shared her story on Snapchat. “F * ck school f * ck softball f * ck cheer f * ck everything,” she wrote. The message quickly spread and quickly reached his cheerleading coach, and Levy was ultimately suspended from the team for the remainder of the season. His parents sued the school board over this decision in a case now known as Mahanoy Area School District v. The Supreme Court.
This case gave universities across the country the opportunity to reflect on the control schools have over the actions of their students in the Internet age. School officials can see almost anything a student posts on social media, which limits the freedom of expression of high school students off campus. As students, we should want Levy to win his case. The scenario of a dispute between an athlete and his coach seems so commonplace that almost any student can imagine themselves to be at the center of it. Inclusion of social media under school jurisdiction would force high school students to avoid making mistakes and to remain professional at all times. This places a constant burden on students; the pressure to maintain a perfect online image exists regardless of the court ruling. However, giving schools the right to limit what students can say or do online would make this problem worse.
There are instances of misconduct online, such as bullying or discrimination, that would warrant disciplinary action by the school. In these situations, the participation of officials should be encouraged, although schools still need to know where to draw the line. In situations like Levy’s, an attempt to protect the students actually accomplishes the opposite. I would warn the school not to be too harsh on students who are misguided but do not want harm. Teens should be allowed to make mistakes. Confronting social media and the permanence of our words is new to this generation and should be treated as such. It is unreasonable for the school to hold students accountable for what they do all day in their private lives when their words do not negatively affect their peers.
The outcome of this case is unlikely to have a significant impact on how our school specifically chooses to regulate student speech on social media. The federal government has much less authority over private schools than over public schools such as Levy. However, the implications of this case pose a unique question for private schools: If public schools have this level of control over the speech of off-campus students, how far can our school go? The school should consider the outcome of the Levy case when deciding whether it is within their authority to discipline a student for online actions.
After experiencing a full year of Zoom courses, we learned that the school’s reach extends beyond its campus. But while student speech on social media may be subject to school discipline, careful consideration should be given to when this power should be exercised. Ultimately, schools must allow students to learn to be responsible online on their own terms.