Can a school district discipline a student based on social media content posted while on campus?

Huntsville City School leaders are expressing concern over student's internet content

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - If your student posts an inappropriate message on Snapchat or Instagram off school property, can they be disciplined by their school?

Right now, the answer is yes.

But that question is going before U.S. Supreme Court justices on a case out of Pennsylvania that could set a new precedent for every student.

The challenge in court comes from a Pennsylvania student over her vulgar message about her cheerleading team on social media, and it was posted it on the school’s campus.

She’s challenging an old law many school districts still operate under where if it disrupts the learning environment, even off campus, you can be disciplined.

The Huntsville City School Board along with about 11 other Alabama districts have joined together to write a brief supporting that Pennsylvania school district’s position on disciplining students.

Huntsville’s Board Attorney, Chris Pape, broke down the challenge for schools in this new pandemic learning environment.

“Think about a principal with a student participating in virtual learning. That student is sitting in their home during a live lesson and they tweet or post something on Instagram and their classmates get that message and it disrupts the campus,” Pape said. “Is that teacher allowed to punish that student for the thing that happened in the kids house? Technically, he was off campus, but participating in a class. If a teacher has to wonder whether or not they are going to violate the first amendment, that really hamstrings our people to be able to keep good order in school.”

The results of this case in front of the Supreme Court will set precedence for cases that follow.

Pape said he hopes we will have a decision on this by summertime.

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