As a Student, Is Your Social Media Activity Protected by the First Amendment?

Savannah Abshire | Sports Editor


On Feb. 11, 2020, four high school students from Saline High School in Detroit, Mich. filed a lawsuit against their own school district for taking disciplinary action against them after the students had been involved in a group chat on Snapchat where racist comments and slurs were being sent back and forth.

The students filed the lawsuit with David A. Kallman who claimed that the school had “violated [their] clients’ constitutional rights” as the messages were sent from their “homes, privately owned phones, on a non-school day.” The U.S. District Court ruled that “the school is acting outside the scope of its authority” and the case may even be headed to the Supreme Court.

This poses one question for Avon High School students: are students’ personal posts and messages on social media protected by the First Amendment?

“How we have always made our decisions is that [we decide if] there’s some disruption that’s being created at school as a result of what was posted online,” said Principal Matthew Shockley. “We can’t just automatically go ‘we don’t support that, so we’re going to punish you for that.’ What we do in a lot of these situations where we find out
about it is that we bring the kids in and there are phone calls home.”

Although students at Avon may post, write, or message what they wish out of school, assuming it doesn’t interfere with the learning environment, students may be subject to censorship while on the school grounds.

According to Avon’s school board policy under code po5136, “distracting behavior that creates an unsafe environment will not be tolerated” and students should not use a phone or electronic “in any way that might reasonably create in the mind of another person an impression of being threatened, humiliated, harassed, embarrassed or intimidated.”

“If they are on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, [or] disability, most of the case law has been around substantial disruption, but there have been some cases where the idea, even if it didn’t cause substantial is not protected speech because it is in a way violating the protected classes,” said Assistant Principal, Stephanie Bode.

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