What you need to know about B.L. v. Mahanoy before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments this week

Can a school principal punish a student for what they post on social media even if it's not on school campus or during school hours? This Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case to answer that question. The results will affect public school students nationwide.

If the court sides with the school district in B.L. v. Mahanoy, school officials could be able to punish students for any speech that was considered "disruptive" to the school. This is far too vague and overreaching of a standard. And giving public school officials — government actors —  an explicit green light to monitor and punish students for their speech 24/7 would cement students as second class citizens when it comes to free speech rights. 

So what can you do right now?

For reporters, this is a story worth covering. Your audience deserves to know how students in your area will be affected. For teachers, this is history in the making and a teachable moment. 

Timeline and information

  • The official Supreme Court docket includes full copies of most of the documents submitted in the case, including all legal briefs.
  • Oral arguments to the Court will take place Wednesday, April 28, 2021
  • Arguments will be held in the morning with same-day audio and transcripts available here.
  • A decision in the case is expected by this summer, probably in June or July.
Five Minute Guide to the Case

 Story ideas / discussion questions

  • Is there an organization at your school that works off-campus? How would administrators with the authority to censor 24/7 affect their ability to work? 
  • Where do you post? If you live tweet events or post about controversial issues on your personal social media, could your administration target those items? 
  • If administrators could censor off-campus speech, would that affect the type of content you post about on social media? Do you think you or your classmates would self-censor to avoid the risk?
  • Are students more likely to speak with student journalists away from the school? What kind of chilling effect could you see? 

Get the conversation started on social media 

Every student in the country could feel the effects of the court's ruling making this a great time for a story about how censoring off-campus speech could be harmful at your school. Begin the conversation on social media using the suggested posts below.
  • Click to Tweet: Students achieve in the classroom and lead in our community — we must protect student speech everywhere. The Supreme Court should not expand any administration’s ability to censor. Via @SPLC
  • Click to Tweet: Students should feel free to express themselves on and off-campus. When a student does so, we cannot restrict them. The Supreme Court should affirm that students are not second-class citizens. Via @SPLC
  • Click to Tweet: We post content from our homes, the back of the bus and sometimes from fast-food parking lots after games! Our ability to do so free from censorship is at risk. Via @SPLC

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