“The Courts and You: Your Rights When You Snap ‘[F#$!] School’” 

A presentation of the Illinois Judges Association (IJA)

Judges Justin Hansen and Jennifer Johnson

Program Description

“The Courts and You: Your Rights When You Snap ‘[F#$!] School’” is a presentation that provides civics information about the judiciary and how it effects the students in the classroom.  The presentation focuses on contemporary cases involving students, schools, and Constitutional rights.  It uses PowerPoint and generally fits a 40-60 minute class period.  It has been used for middle school and high school students. The presentation works best when the presenters seek ongoing involvement from the students in the classroom.

Program Outline

The program begins with the basic nuts and bolts of our democratic system of government and the judicial system.  This introductory material provides an opportunity to build rapport with the students using concepts they have learned before. 

The program then focuses on the 1st Amendment and their freedom of speech.  Students consider the importance of free speech in our society and learn about limits on speech depending upon context. 

Next, students are asked to consider why there might be limits on their freedom of speech in the school setting.  A volunteer is selected who is familiar with Snapchat – a popular messaging application for smartphones.  That volunteer answers some simple questions about Snapchat, (e.g., what is this application?  How do you communicate to others using the app?  Do you use Snapchat?  How many people can you reach with your message on snapchat?  Do snaps disappear after they are viewed?  Are there any ways to preserve a snap?) 

The presenter then reviews the basic facts of Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L, a US Supreme Court case from 2021 involving a high schooler, her profane and frustrated Snapchat messages (“snaps”), and the schools resulting discipline.  The students are polled to see whether they believe the student’s speech is protected or not.  Student volunteers provide the reasoning for their opinions. 

If time allows and it is age appropriate, the presenters review U.S. Supreme Court precedent in the area of school speech.  This provides the students further context and demonstrates how judges decide cases. The students are asked to compare the Snapchat case to the fact scenarios in the precedents.  Students are asked whether their opinion about the Snapchat case have changed, and, if so, why. 

Finally, the lower court and U.S. Supreme Court results in the B.L. case are reviewed.  As time allows, concepts about appeal rights and courts of review are revisited.  The students are reminded that even as middle and high school students, they are affected by the work of the courts.  If time allows, additional hypotheticals are provided to foster discussion about free speech rights in school.     

The Logistics

Target audience:        Middle and High School age students

Timing:                       The most impactful presentations use student engagement throughout.  Ideally, plan on 1 hour for the entire presentation OR tailor the presentation to fit a shorter class session.

Size/Format:              This is a synchronous, “live”, presentation.  The program has been presented in-person and remotely via Zoom and Google Classroom to both small and large groups of students. 

                                    When providing a remote presentation, work with the teacher(s) ahead of time to enable chat to the presenter only.  In this way, the students cannot chat with each other, but can respond to presenter questions in the chat box.  Depending upon the size of your audience, you may work with a teacher to identify a suitable volunteer(s) before you begin.

Media/Guests:           With the school’s permission, local community leaders, judges and media may be invited.  With the school’s permission, photos of the presentation can be provided to media along with a press release.