A Supreme Court Case Could Redefine Free Speech For Students

At issue is whether schools should be able to penalize students for certain digital speech.

By Laura RiceApril 29, 2021 12:57 pm,

The most notable Supreme Court case dealing with free speech for students is Tinker v. Des Moines. It was decided in 1969 and basically found students have the right to free expression on campus as long as it is not disruptive to the learning environment. Bradley Wilson, a Midwestern State University associate professor of mass communication, says it’s not surprising the idea of free speech at school is now being revisited.

“Fifty-one years have passed,” Wilson said. “I think that’s actually really significant in this case because the schools have changed. We’ve created the Internet, we’ve created social media, things have changed.”

The new case involves a high school student who was punished by her school after posting a video to Snapchat in reaction to not making the varsity cheerleading squad.

“The student involved was speaking about her not getting on the cheer team from her own phone away from school, did not mention the school, was not wearing a cheerleading outfit, you know, so why was the school involved in governing the speech at all is really the central case to me,” Wilson said.

Wilson saw some indications of how Supreme Court justices might rule during oral arguments Wednesday.

“There were several moments that I thought were telling in that regard,” Wilson said. “It looked like the justices were trying to put a box around what is school speech. And that scares me a little bit… Students should have the right to be able to say that their school stinks, where they say that shouldn’t matter.”

A decision on the case is likely to come in June.

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