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The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania public school wrongly suspended a student from cheerleading over a vulgar social media post she made after she didn’t qualify for the varsity team.

The court voted 8-1 in favor of Brandi Levy, who was a 14-year-old high school freshman when she expressed her disappointment over not making the varsity cheerleading squad with a string of curse words and a raised middle finger on Snapchat.

Levy, of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, was not in school when she made her post, but she was suspended from cheerleading activities for a year anyway. In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the high court ruled that the suspension violated Levy’s First Amendment freedom of speech rights. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, noting he would have upheld the suspension.

The justices did not foreclose schools from disciplining students for what they say off campus, though they did not spell out when schools could act. An earlier federal appeals court ruling in this case would have barred public schools from punishing off-campus speech.

Despite ruling in Levy’s favor, Breyer wrote that “we do not believe the special characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech always disappear when a school regulates speech that takes place off campus. The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances.”

The case drew extra interest at a time of remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic and a rising awareness of the harmful effects of online bullying.

The case arose from Levy’s posts, one of which pictured her and a friend with raised middle fingers and included repeated use of a vulgarity to complain that she had been left off the varsity cheerleading squad.

‘Serious racial disparities’ in Pennsylvania juvenile court

Pennsylvania locks up far too many first-time and low-level youth offenders, with Black youth in particular disproportionately yanked from their homes and prosecuted as adults, according to a governmental task force that made recommendations on Tuesday to reform juvenile justice in the state.

“Serious racial disparities pervade Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system,” the bipartisan Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force said in its report, adding that changes are urgently needed to make the state’s juvenile justice system more fair and more effective.

Young offenders told the task force of being stuck for years in a system they couldn’t seem to escape, lodged in facilities far from home that weren’t clean or safe and did not offer effective treatment or education. One girl said she’d “learned to live in an institution but not as a person in the world.”

A substantial percentage of young people who commit a minor crime, and are considered at low risk of reoffending, are nevertheless removed from home and placed in a residential facility, the group found in its 16-month review. The practice is widespread despite research showing that out-of-home placement is “generally not effective at reducing recidivism for most youth ? and can instead be counterproductive,” the report said.

Policymakers found widespread geographic and racial disparities in how youth offenders are treated, with Black youths more likely than white youths to be removed from home and prosecuted in adult court. Black youths represent 38% of cases in juvenile court, but 62% of the youths detained before adjudication and 47% sent to a residential facility, the report said. The use of detention varied widely from county to county.


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