New Supreme Court Decisions: What Students and Parents Need to Know

In a year-end blitz of Supreme Court (SCOTUS) opinions, two may be of interest to parents of college athletes and high school students. 

Two important Supreme Court decisions (@ksedington via Twenty20)

Students’ free speech extends beyond the school grounds

The first opinion that parents and their teens may find interesting is a major First Amendment case on student speech. SCOTUS ruled in favor of a former high school student who was disciplined by her public school after sending a vulgar message on Snapchat complaining about the school’s cheerleading squad. 

A student, B.L., failed to make her public high school’s varsity cheerleading squad. She was instead offered a spot on the junior varsity cheerleading squad. On a weekend day while not on school property B.L. expressed her displeasure with the school by posting on Snapchat. Her posts included vulgar language and images. When the school became aware of the content of the Snapchats they suspended B.L. from the upcoming junior varsity cheerleading squad for the upcoming year.  

B.L. argued that the school’s punishment violated her free speech and the Supreme Court agreed, finding that the school’s special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech did not trump B.L.’s right to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.  

Writing for the majority, Justice Breyer said, 

America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. Our representative democracy only works if we protect the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ This free exchange facilitates an informed public opinion, which, when transmitted to lawmakers, helps produce laws that reflect the People’s will. That protection must include the protection of unpopular ideas, for popular ideas have less need for protection.

Thus, schools have a strong interest in ensuring that future generations understand the workings in practice of the well-known aphorism, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

Justice Breyer

A renowned First Amendment expert, Robert Nelson says, “…the message of the case is clear: A school must be able to demonstrate a direct, significant impact on the school mission to support regulation of a student’s off-campus speech…” 

The National Education Association released a statement lauding the SCOTUS decision. 

We all want our students — Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike — to attend safe public schools that are free of harassment and bullying. We also believe that students, just like educators, have a right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Mahanoy strikes the right balance. The Court recognized that ‘America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy.’ And we model that democracy by ensuring that students have a right to speak in an environment that is free of bullying and harassment. 

NEA President Becky Pringle 

College can provide their student-athletes with more than just the basics

The second opinion has been touted as a victory for college athletes in a battle between college athletes and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.  

Colleges and universities generate enormous revenue from their athletic programs which they run with amateur athletes. The NCAA which oversees student-athletes limits educational related perks for college athletes. Presently, collegiate athletes are not paid, although they can receive scholarships, books, and room and board among other incidental costs. 

In a unanimous decision, the Court said the NCAA cannot stop colleges from providing athletes with “education-related benefits such as free laptops or paid post-graduate internships.” The opinion fell short of saying that amateur athletes may earn a salary for their play. 

In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Gorsuch wrote that, 

By permitting colleges and universities to offer enhanced education-related benefits, its decision may encourage scholastic achievement and allow student-athletes a measure of compensation more consistent with the value they bring to their schools.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that sports tradition,

…cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated. Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate…. 

Justice Kavanaugh

More Great Reading:

For The Average Young Athlete, Sports Isn’t A Free Ride To College

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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