MEDIA, PA — The expulsion of a Delaware County high school student violated that student’s right to free speech, according to a ruling by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
The court recently decided Rose Tree Media School District’s expulsion of a Penncrest High School student after the student posted violent lyrics from a death metal band goes against the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions.
According to the court, the student, a minor identified as G.S. in the court’s ruling, posted lyrics from the band Spite back in April 2018 to his Snapchat account while not in school.
Part of the lyrics posted by the then 16-year-old junior included the words, “I will f***ing kill off all of you.”
That post caught the attention of others in the Rose Tree Media School District community, who reported the post to police.
The student was later arrested and charged with terroristic threats and harassment.
While in juvenile detention, a school psychologist evaluated G.S. and determined he posed no threat to the community and simply enjoyed the band’s “rhythm, tempo, and high energy.”
“[G.S.] is remorseful for having posted the lyrics and hopes to return home as soon as possible. His level of risk for future violent behavior is [l]ow,” the psychologist said.Then in August 2018, the school district expelled the student, citing his post’s alleged disruption to the district community, even though the district’s hearing officer did not describe the post as a true threat of violence.
G.S. appealed the expulsion in a Delaware County common pleas court, which upheld the district’s decision. G.S. then appealed again with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
The Commonwealth Court asked this question in the appeal: Did the School District violate G.S.’ constitutional right to free speech, which is protected by both the United States Constitution’s First Amendment and Article I, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, by expelling him because of his Snapchat post?
In its ruling, the court said Rose Tree Media School District was asking the court to ignore the context of the post G.S.’ intent and called the district’s suggestion “problematic.”
“Public schools would consequently become de facto full-time censors, preventing children from making their own decisions about what aspects of popular culture are worthy of consumption or what beliefs should be held, and interfering with parental authority, through a constant potential for punishment that would hang over students like the Sword of Damocles,” Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler wrote in her decision.
Ceisler determined the Snapchat post had no link to the school or his fellow students, saying the district’s decision to expel G.S. from Penncrest violated both the First Amendment and Article I, Section 7.
Below is the song quoted in the Snapchat post: