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In re G.S.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court

January 7, 2022

An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that a school district’s decision to expel G.S. violated his constitutionally protected right to free speech. G.S.’s expulsion resulted from the district’s determination that G.S. had violated its Student Discipline Code by posting violent song lyrics on Snapchat, even though G.S. had put up the offending post when he was neither on-campus nor involved in school activities. On appeal, the Court of Common Pleas held that the school district’s terroristic threat determination was not supported by substantial evidence but upheld G.S.’s expulsion on other bases. The Commonwealth Court reversed the lower court’s decision to enforce the suspension. The Court ruled that “G.S.’s post was unambiguously off-campus speech, regarding which the school district’s disciplinary reach was sharply circumscribed by both the First Amendment and Article I, Section 7. Given this, and no matter how objectionable the content of G.S.’s post may have been, it is evident that the district markedly failed to clear the extremely high bar set by these constitutional provisions and, thus, could not punish him for the disruptions that occurred at the school”.

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