ATTORNEY GENERAL RAOUL SUPPORTS SCHOOLS’ ABILITY TO PROTECT STUDENTS FROM BULLYING
Raoul, Coalition Urges Supreme Court to Permit Schools to Address Harmful Off-Campus Speech that Substantially Disrupts School or Interferes with Students’ Learning
Chicago —Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a coalition of 24 attorneys general, filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to preserve schools’ ability to address cyberbullying and other forms of off-campus bullying that substantially affect students’ educations. Raoul and the coalition filed the brief in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., a case concerning schools’ ability to hold students accountable for off-campus speech. Because of public schools’ obligation to protect students and promote learning, the Supreme Court has long given them more leeway to regulate student speech under the First Amendment. However, the lower court in this case ruled that schools may never take disciplinary action against students when they engage in disruptive speech off-campus.
In their amicus brief, Raoul and the attorneys general urge the court to reject this ruling, arguing that it would undermine state anti-bullying laws and prevent schools from addressing in-person and online bullying that originates off-campus. Instead, the coalition encourages the court to uphold an existing legal standard that empowers schools to regulate speech that substantially disrupts school or interferes with other students’ ability to learn.
“Bullying in any form, whether at school or off school grounds, significantly interferes with a student’s ability to learn and achieve,” Raoul said. “While this is not a new problem, technology makes it more difficult for students to escape bullying, and this has been compounded during COVID as students are relying on technology for learning and socializing. The court should continue to allow schools to be able to hold students accountable for disruptive speech, regardless of where it takes place.”
In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a landmark 1969 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that students have First Amendment rights in public school settings but also recognized that school officials may regulate student speech that would “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school,” or interfere with the rights of other students. Every federal appellate court in the country, except the 3rd Circuit in the case now before the Supreme Court, has applied the Tinker standard to student speech that causes substantial disruption or harm at school, regardless of where the speech originates.
In their amicus brief filed today, Raoul and the attorneys general do not take a position on the underlying facts of the case. Instead, they urge the court to treat students’ off-campus speech like any other student speech, allowing schools to regulate it when it has substantial effects on the school or other students’ learning, because:
Joining Raoul in filing the brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.