On June 23rd, 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a cheerleader who was a student at a Pennsylvania public school. In this case, a 9th grader did not make the varsity cheer squad. In her frustration, she took to social media to express her frustration using expletives to a private list of friends. However, her coaches were nonetheless notified of the statement.
The issue in the case was whether a school could punish a student for statements made off school grounds. This issue was first considered by the Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969. That watershed case set the precedent for the following 52 years. Of course, when that case was considered by the Court, what was considered “off-campus,” in a time before social media, is drastically different than today.
Following the June 23rd decision, such binding precedent will provide more leeway to public school students who choose to express themselves outside of school. While the Court did not explicitly define what is considered “off-campus,” it did note that a public school’s interest in teaching good manners is not sufficient to overcome a student’s right to free expression.