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Supreme Court hears off-campus free speech case, directly impacts LGBTQ youth

Tinker and the students’ rights cases based on it — has played a significant role in advancing the rights of LGBTQ students

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The U.S. Supreme Court (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In oral arguments heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in a Pennsylvania school district free speech case, the Justices in questioning attorneys seemed to hold a viewpoint expressing reluctance to give schools wide latitude to punish students for things they say or post on social media when they’re off campus.

The case, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. centers around single social media post in the form of a profanity filled rant on SnapChat by a teenager who was not advanced to a varsity cheerleading spot on her small, rural public high school’s cheerleading squad in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

On Snapchat, she posted a photo of herself and a friend at a convenience store with their middle fingers raised. She repeatedly used a vulgar four-letter verb to write, “f— school f— softball f— cheer f— everything.”

According to NBC News senior justice correspondent Pete Williams, the girl, identified as Brandi Levy said, “I wasn’t really thinking about it when I was making it. I was just upset at everything.”

However, another student found out about the message, took a screenshot, and showed it to her mother, who happened to be one of the school’s two cheerleading coaches. Brandi was suspended from the junior varsity team for her entire sophomore year.

She and her parents sued, and a federal appeals court ruled that because her message was posted off campus, she was beyond the reach of school authorities and for that reason could not be punished.

Justices seemed to express hesitation whether an outburst such as Levy’s rose to the occasion for a school to punish a student, as could be expected in the cases of threats to do harm or bullying.

“She blew off steam like millions of kids have when they’re disappointed about being cut from the high school team, or not being in the starting lineup, or not making all-league,” said conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “It didn’t seem to me like the punishment was tailored to the offense.”

“I’m told by my clerks that how much you swear is a badge of honor,” said Sonia Sotomayor, one of the court’s liberal justices.

Justice Stephen Breyer another liberal said that if using swear words off campus was considered disruptive, “My goodness, every school in the country would be doing nothing but punishing.”

In the landmark 1969 ruling, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court’s majority ruled in a 7-2 decision, that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Court took the position that school officials could not prohibit only on the suspicion that the speech might disrupt the learning environment.

Levy and the Mahanoy Area School District disagreed on how that precedent applies to off-campus expression like hers in the internet age, and the court struggled Wednesday where to draw the line between expression that is disruptive on the one hand or merely offensive on the other, Williams reported.

“That’s a very nebulous line,” said conservative Justice Samuel Alito. “I’m concerned about the effect on freedom of speech.

This case also has implications for the LGBTQ community’s youth Lambda Legal told the Blade in an emailed response to a question about the case’s impact.

“The Mahanoy case is significant because the precedent at issue — Tinker and the students’ rights cases based on it — has played a significant role in advancing the rights of LGBTQ students. Preserving protections for LGBTQ coming-out speech and gender expression (e.g., promposals, wearing a Pride pin or t-shirt, or wearing a dress to prom) as well as the right to refrain from speech (e.g., National Day of Silence), are important to ensuring protections for LGBTQ students regardless of Title IX interpretation or passage of the Equality Act,” said Kara Ingelhart, Staff Attorney of Lambda Legal.

‘And although Lambda agrees that the school in this particular case lacked authority to discipline the plaintiff student, nonetheless (and as the Court grappled with in argument today) there remain instances when schools must take action to curb off-campus or after-hours student speech in order to protect the rights of other students to be secure and free from bullying and harassment. Under Tinker, schools retain the ability to regulate off-campus and/or after-hours student speech that harms others, such as speech constituting bullying and harassment based on sex, race, LGBTQ status, and/or disability. Indeed, schools have an obligation to do so in order to protect the rights of marginalized students and ensure that they have access to an education,” Ingelhart pointed out.

“The Third Circuit decision, while noting that the context of harassment was not before it, contained broad language that could be misconstrued to prevent schools from addressing harassment that occurs off campus or during hours when school is not in session. We filed an amicus brief in support of the student noting this important concern about a school’s obligation to protect students from harassment particularly girls of color, in addition to disabled, and/or LGBTQ students and also highlighting that students from these historically marginalized groups also disproportionately face discipline for speech conduct.

To prepare the brief, we partnered with three leading organizations that advocate with us to protect students’ rights, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and the national law firm Ropes & Grey.” 

The Supreme Court will issue its ruling by late June

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Jazz Jennings publicly opens up about her binge-eating disorder

“I have gained a substantial amount of weight. I suffer from binge-eating disorder, a disease in which I’m addicted to food”

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Sander and Jazz Jennings (Photo via Facebook)

CORAL SPRINGS, Fl. – In an Instagram post Friday, prominent Trans youth activist, YouTuber and social media influencer Jazz Jennings revealed that she is battling an eating disorder. In a side by side photographic comparison Jennings showed her followers that she has in fact suffered a massive weight gain.

“I’m posting this photo because it’s time for me to address my weight gain and hold myself accountable,” she said, while sharing a picture of herself by the pool, wearing a sports bra and shorts.

Jennings wrote; “As many of you have noticed, over the past few years, I have gained a substantial amount of weight. I suffer from binge-eating disorder, a disease in which I’m not only addicted to food, but I eat it in large quantities.

My binging, along with an increased appetite I experience from some of the meds I’m on, has caused me to gain almost 100 pounds in a little less than 2 years.

I’m ready to change my ways; I’ve been saying I’m ready to turn over a new leaf, but I’m running out of trees now. I’m ready to take the initiative and create positive changes when it comes to my health.”

One of her twin older siblings, brother Sander, showed his unwavering support of his sister by commenting, “You are so resilient and can do anything you put your mind too. [sic] I believe in you and will be by your side every step of the way.” She wrote back, “You’re my teammate.”

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Heat Alert; High Temperatures forecast for parts of LA County & SoCal

It is important that we check on others, in particular those who are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of high temperatures

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Graphic courtesy of the National Weather Service

OXNARD – The National Weather Service has issued a heat watch and warning for interior segments of Sothern California including the Mojave Desert areas, Kern County, parts of Ventura and Los Angeles County, Palm Springs and the Inland Empire to the border, as well San Gabriel, San Bernardino, Riverside and the Coachella Valley.

The average daytime temperatures are expected to exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Los Angeles County Health Officer has issued a Heat Alert as high temperatures have been forecast for the following areas:

  • East San Gabriel Valley – through Friday, June 18
  • Santa Clarita Valley – through Saturday, June 19
  • Antelope Valley – through Sunday, June 20

Public Health reminds everyone to take precautions to avoid heat-related illness, especially older adults, young children, outdoor workers, athletes, and people with a chronic medical condition who are especially sensitive to negative health impacts from extreme heat. Public Health offers the following recommendations during high temperature days:

  • Drink plenty of water and keep hydrated throughout the day.
  • If you must go out, plan your day to avoid going out during the hottest hours, and wear sunscreen. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothes, and wear a hat or use an umbrella.
  • Cars get very hot. Never leave children or pets in cars and call 911 if you see a child or pet in a car alone.
  • Beware of heat-related illness, like heat stroke and call 911 if you see these symptoms: high body temperature, vomiting, and pale and clammy skin.
  • Check on those at risk, like those who are sick, older adults, pregnant women, and children, and those who live alone.
  • If you are wearing a mask, avoid strenuous workouts wearing face coverings or masks not intended for athletic purposes.
  • Visit your power company’s website or contact them by phone to determine if you are scheduled for a rolling power outage.

“While it is very important that everyone take special care of themselves, it is equally important that we reach out and check on others, in particular those who are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of high temperatures, including children, the elderly, and their pets,” said Muntu Davis, MD, Los Angeles County Health Officer. “High temperatures are not just an inconvenience, they can be dangerous and even deadly. But we can protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors if we take steps to remain cool and hydrated. It is critically important to never leave children, elderly people, or pets unattended in homes with no air conditioning and particularly in vehicles, even if the windows are ‘cracked’ or open, as temperatures inside can quickly rise to life-threatening levels. If you have an elderly or infirm neighbor who is without air conditioning, check on them throughout the day.”

County and City partners have planned ways to safely operate cooling centers during times of high heat. Residents who do not have access to air conditioning are encouraged to take advantage of these free cooling centers.

To find a location near you, visit https://ready.lacounty.gov/heat/ or call 211.

The health and safety of staff and visitors at cooling centers is priority. Public Health notes the following for cooling centers:

  • Staff and visitors are instructed to stay home if they do not feel well. Any person reporting or exhibiting signs of illness is advised to seek appropriate medical care.
  • Staff and visitors are required to wear a face covering at all times, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.
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Celebrity News

Stage and screen actress Lisa Banes has died after hit and run

The 65 year-old actress was admitted to the ICU at Mount Sinai Morningside hospital in New York with a traumatic brain injury.

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Screen and stage actress Lisa Banes (Screenshot via YouTube E! News)

NEW YORK – Los Angeles resident and critically acclaimed actress Lis Banes died Monday at Mount Sinai Morningside hospital as a result of injuries she suffered stemming from a hit and run accident on June 4, after being struck by an electric scooter, a spokesperson for the NYPD confirmed.

The 65 year-old actress was admitted to the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Morningside in New York with a traumatic brain injury. According to the NYPD, the actress was crossing Amsterdam Avenue at 64th Street, in a crosswalk near the Juilliard School, at Lincoln Center. The driver left the scene and no arrests have been made.

Banes’s wife, Kathryn Kranhold, a contributing reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, had made a plea “to pray for Lisa” after the accident — and called for anyone with information about the accident to contact police.

“We are heartsick over Lisa’s tragic and senseless passing. She was a woman of great spirit, kindness and generosity and dedicated to her work, whether on stage or in front of a camera and even more so to her wife, family and friends. We were blessed to have had her in our lives,” her manager David Williams said in a statement released Tuesday.

Banes has appeared in numerous television shows and movies, including supporting roles in “Gone Girl” starring Ben Affleck in 2014 and “Cocktail” with Tom Cruise in 1988. On television, she’s had roles on “Nashville,” “Madam Secretary,” “Masters of Sex” and “NCIS.” NBC News Entertainment reported.

Anyone with information about Banes’s death is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). You can also submit a tip via the website or on Twitter, @NYPDTips. All calls are kept confidential.

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