Lanier Ford files amici curiae brief in U.S. Supreme Court
On Monday, March 1, 2021, Chris Pape, a shareholder in Lanier Ford’s Education Practice Group, partnered with attorneys from Burr & Forman LLP to file an amici curiae brief on behalf of the Huntsville City Board of Education and 11 other Alabama boards of education in the case Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., No. 20-255 (U.S.), in support of a Pennsylvania school district. The brief implores the United States Supreme Court to empower boards of education with the continued authority to address cyberbullying, online harassment, and other similar types of off-campus behavior.
The brief demonstrates to the court that boards of education have been appropriately balancing respect for student expression with maintaining a safe and positive learning environment. At its core, the Alabama school boards’ brief simply asks the court to adopt the familiar Tinker standard, or one like it, as have most federal circuit courts around the country.
The Supreme Court hears this issue at a time where the use of social media is ubiquitous. Moreover, it comes at a time when boards of education are facing not only constant changes in communication technology, but the difficulties presented by the sudden shift to virtual platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, without clear, practical guidance from the court, school administrators will be forced to choose between maintaining a constructive learning environment—free from online harassment—and protecting themselves from the threat of liability.
By filing this brief, these Alabama boards of education show their desire to protect their schools’ ability to address proactively the cyberbullying and online harassment of students, faculty, and staff.
Download a copy of the decision of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, as reported at 964 F.3d 170 (3rd Cir. 2020), cert. granted, 2021 WL 77251 (U.S. Jan. 8, 2021).