Where do we draw the line between protecting students’ right to free speech, and protecting the education environment of our schools?
This is the central question in the arena of School Speech law, which has been defined by landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases over the years. Tinker v. Des Moines held in 1969 that students could protest the Vietnam War so long as they did not “materially disrupt the classroom” or cause “substantial disorder” within the school. In a 2007 case, Morse v. Frederick the Supreme Court held that students could not use their student speech to encourage illegal activity when a group of Alaskan students raised a banner that said, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” But as everyone knows by now, the internet has changed everything, and both school and student speech look different today than they did 60 years ago.
On June 23, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case about a teenager’s controversial Snapchat messages which criticized her school, her cheerleading team, her softball team, and, well, everything else. The student’s name is Brandi Levy, and when she found out she did not make the varsity cheerleading squad at her high school, she vented her frustration to her private friends on the app, Snapchat. “F*** school f*** softball f*** cheer f*** everything,” said the message, (with the full curse word) which circulated to a few hundred of her followers on the app before the message self-deleted after 24 hours. In response to her social media post, Ms. Levy was suspended from the cheer squad. When her appeal to the school board failed, she and her parents sued in federal court.
The case, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., made its way up to the United States Supreme Court, and is sure to be a landmark case for school speech in the information age. The Court decided that Ms. Levy’s speech was protected, and the school was wrong to suspend her. After all, the Court repeated its view from the 1969 Tinker case that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The Court did caution, however, that while the school in Ms. Levy’s case did not have a compelling special interest to restrict her freedom of speech, other circumstances might allow them to discipline a student for speech that disrupts classes, involves threats or bullying, or somehow interferes with the school’s ability to function. Ultimately, Mahanoy is a win for student speech. It affirms a student’s right to speak freely, even about school matters, when that speech happens off campus and the school has no special interest in the matter.
If you are experiencing a student speech issue, or any school-related legal concern, the attorneys at Freking Myers & Reul are ready to consult with you.
Nearly since the very beginning of college sports, student athletes have had a unique place in the labor market. Before the creation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), colleges were spending massive amounts of money to lure athletes to play on their school teams. In fact, the problem got so bad that student athletes were making more money than professional athletes for a time. College football was known to be especially corrupt and unethical at the turn of the 20th century, which prompted the creation of the NCAA in 1906. Players were paid higher salaries than business executives and would change teams from week to week based on who paid them the most. This picture of college athletes making fistfuls of cash playing an unregulated game stands in stark contrast to the world of college sports that we see today.
In the modern landscape of college athletics, the NCAA exercises broad control over how schools are allowed to compensate and compete for student athletes. The NCAA’s rules on compensation are strict and have been criticized for years. Until recently, NCAA rules restricted schools to offering only scholarship money to student athletes. Additionally, student athletes were barred from profiting off of their name or likeness while competing for an NCAA team. But on Monday, June 21, 2021, the United States Supreme Court took up the question of the NCAA’s broad authority over student athlete compensation. The Court rendered a unanimous decision that loosens the NCAA’s ban on any compensation for student athletes beyond scholarships.
The case was brought by a collection of student athletes against the NCAA and 11 Division-I conferences. The Court’s decision came in two parts. First, the Court found that the NCAA’s rules surrounding scholarship and direct compensation to athletes are allowed, because they serve to draw a line between college and professional sports. But the Court ruled in favor of the student athletes in the second part. The Court held that the NCAA cannot restrict the extent to which schools offer student athletes education-related benefits, such as computers and other technology for school, internships, and tuition for graduate school.
While the Court punted on the question of whether student athletes could be paid directly, its decision provides a small win for this unique labor force. While we won’t see Division-I quarterbacks making millions of dollars while still in school anytime soon, we may see schools competing for athletes by offering textbooks, tutoring, or study-abroad experiences. For now, student athletes can directly benefit a little bit more from the value that they bring to their schools, but the “amateur” nature of college sports remains under the tightfisted supervision of the NCAA.
For more information read:
National Collegiate Athletic Association, Petitioner v. Shawne Alston, et al.