Supreme Court rules for cheerleader in free speech case

Teaching good manners does not outweigh free expression of off-campus speech

(Creative Commons graphic)

By Clarion News

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday handed public school students a landmark First Amendment victory, ruling 8-1 that off-campus speech is a protected form of expression.

In 2017, freshman cheerleader Brandi Levy became upset when she was denied a spot on the 2018 varsity squad. On a Saturday afternoon, Levy and a friend sent a expletive-laced Snapchat photo (complete with their middle fingers raised) from a local coffee shop. “F*ck school, f*ck softball, f*ck cheerleading, f*ck everything,” said the Snap, which landed in the inbox of 250 friends and ultimately shared with a cheerleading coach. Levy was handed a one-year suspension from cheerleading because she violated stated conduct rules. She was not suspended from school.

The Mahanoy City, Penn. student sued the school district, arguing that her off-campus speech is not subject to the district’s oversight. Levy won in two lower courts, with both opinions noting that the Supreme Court has never extended the reach of a public school beyond its border. In an earlier landmark case – Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) – the Court held that students keep their First Amendment rights while on campus, unless the speech is substantially disruptive. In the current case, the speech occurred away from school property.

“Teaching good manners does not outweigh free expression,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, one of eight justices voting in favor of student free speech. He noted the Snap might have been vulgar, but the poor choice of wording did not diminish Levy’s right to say what she was feeling.

Levy has acknowledged the immature choice of words, while also noting she was away from campus and was not directing threats at anyone. In fact, her Snap disappeared in 24 hours (as all Snaps do) and nobody complained of the school or cheerleading program being substantially disrupted.

The Court noted that schools cannot become parents by governing off-campus behavior. Public schools, the Court said, may extend a reach beyond campus when the speech involves bullying or cheating.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissent, noting that the cheerleader was subverting school authority, regardless of where the Snap originated. During arguments made to the Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that the cheerleader’s actions were eroding the importance of team solidarity. But, he said, the fact she was away from campus insulates her from the reach of the school district.

An article about the case here.

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Campus mask mandate ends next week

Clarion News reports

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY – The campus will no longer require the wearing of masks beginning June 14, 2021, states an email released today by the LU Office of Marketing and University Relations. Masks will be recommended for anyone without a vaccination or for those with a compromised immune system.

Social distancing protocols in classrooms and meeting places will remain in place during the summer.

The campus has required masks since May of 2020. The mask policy is subject to change, depending upon local health conditions and CDC recommendations. For more on LU COVID info, go to

For a past article on students and masks, see the Clarion News article below:

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President Woolfolk departing LU

The university has been led by three presidents since 2013, searching for fourth

LU President Dr. Jerald Jones Woolfolk at 2019 Fall Institute. Aug. 11, 2019.

Clarion News staff

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY – The Board of Curators announced today that President Jerald Jones Woolfolk will be leaving the university at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year. She began her service as president in June 2018. An interim president will be named soon and a search for her replacement will begin.

Jones was the third president to serve since Dr. Kevin Rome was hired in 2013, only to resign in March of 2017 to take a president position at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. His departure led to a year under Michael Middleton, an interim president who served until the hiring of Woolfolk in June of 2018.

March 2017 – Dr. Rome leaves LU to become president of Fisk University.

May 2017 – Michael Middleton, former interim president of University of Missouri schools, hired to head LU until a replacement is hired.

June 2018 – Dr. Jerald Jones Woolfolk hired as LU’s 20th president.

May 16, 2021 – Woolfolk to leave LU.

A news release from the LU Board of Curators issued today (May 16, 2021) did not state a reason for Woolfolk’s departure. The release contained quotes from Victor B. Pasley, president of the Board of Curators, and President Woolfolk. He praised her time and accomplishments while serving the LU community.

Woolfolk said her leaving is “sad,” but that it is “time for me to return home” because she has been away from family a long time. The board praised Woolfolk’s recent fundraising efforts and that the university’s new police academy were under her tenure as president.

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LU holds in-person commencement

To achieve social distancing, five separate ceremonies will be held during the weekend

LU journalism students attend commencement in Mitchell Auditorium. May 15, 2021. (Clarion News photo)

Clarion News

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY – Graduating seniors are walking across the stage once again, but not all on the same day and time. To keep some sort of social distancing, the university is holding five different commencements in Mitchell Auditorium. The ceremonies are divided by school/degree program.

The spring of 2020 seniors were unable to hold graduation due to the campus being closed by COVID-19.

By all accounts, the graduation gatherings have been very successful. Graduating seniors were allowed to bring six guests into the auditorium. Many students appreciated the abbreviated commencement, with most ceremonies taking less than one hour to complete.

Congrats to all Blue Tiger graduating seniors!

LU seniors attend commencement in Mitchell Auditorium. May 15, 2021. (Photo by Elise Eaker)
LU President Dr. Jerald Jones Woolfolk delivers a commencement speech during graduation in Mitchell Auditorium. May 15, 2021. (Photo by Elise Eaker)
LU President Dr. Jerald Jones Woolfolk delivers a commencement speech during graduation in Mitchell Auditorium. May 15, 2021. (Photo by Elise Eaker)
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Appreciation Day lunch on the Quad

Students enjoy free hot dogs, hamburgers, and other goodies during an LU Appreciation Day held on the Soldiers’ Memorial Plaza. April 30, 2021. (Photo by Mar’che Boggess)

By Mar’che Boggess

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY – Students and staff were treated with a beautiful day and free food during an Appreciation Day picnic held Thursday on the Soldier’s Memorial Plaza. Next week will be the last few days of classroom work for the 2020-2021 school year, For many students, the pandemic brought disruption and challenges.

But we made it. Congratulations to graduating seniors and the LU community for supporting us during the year.

Have a great summer!

President Woolfolk (center, standing) enjoying lunch with students during an LU Appreciation Day on the Quad. April 30, 2021. (Photo by Mar’che Boggess)
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Supreme Court to hear student free speech case

Brandi Levy (via Creative Commons)

By Will Sites

A clash between technology and the free-speech rights of public school students will take place Wednesday in the nation’s highest court. The case involves the discipline of a high school cheerleader after she posted an expletive-filled Snapchat aimed at her school and coaches. The post originated on a Saturday, off-campus, while she was not engaged in a school activity.

The case is Mahanoy Area School District (Penn.) v. B.L. The initials stand for Brandi Levy, who was 15 when the lawsuit was filed – court citations use initials for minors. Levy is now in college. Here’s what happened:

The Mahanoy High School (Penn.) freshman was spending a Saturday with a friend when she decided to send a Snapchat photo of the two flipping-off the camera, along with several f-bombs aimed at cheerleading, softball, and generally the school. The post was not sent to any administrators, teachers, or coaches. However, it was shown to a cheerleader coach, who ultimately suspended Levy because the student violated written conduct policy. Levy filed a lawsuit, stating her First Amendment rights were violated because the speech took place away from campus and did not disrupt the school environment.

The question in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. is: Does a public school violate a student’s First Amendment right to free speech when the speech takes place off-campus and it does not significantly disrupt the school? The issue was previously settled in the 1969 landmark Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines.

In Tinker, two students entered a public high school wearing anti-Vietnam War black armbands. They were suspended after refusing to take them off. The Supreme Court took the case, ruling that schools must protect the First Amendment rights of students, but only if the student speech does not disrupt the school environment. Because nobody complained about the armbands and there was no disruption, the armbands were protected speech. But things have changed.

Because technology allows for speech to originate away from campus – while simultaneously being delivered to campus – the reach of school discipline may be settled after Wednesday’s arguments. The Supreme Court has ruled on several public school speech cases, but this is the first one involving speech via digital devices. Generally, speech is protected when it doesn’t disrupt the school and/or the speech takes place away from campus and campus activities. How much the speech disrupts the school environment seems to be the key factor. Two types of speech – political and religious – have the highest protection.

Wednesday’s oral arguments can be accessed Friday on the Supreme Court’s website and live on C-SPAN’s website.

(Will Sites is an associate professor of journalism at Lincoln University)

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View from the track

Kimone Campbell and Chrissani May

By Phillip Spencer and Kourtney Burchfield

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY- The first outdoor track meet originally scheduled for Saturday, April 10 was postponed to the next day. Opening the season, The Clarion decided to ask a few track student-athletes about the 2021 season.

The Clarion: How many meets do you have this season?

Aliyah George: Outdoor 10 and indoor about eight.

The Clarion: How did COVID-19 affect your training for this season?

Aliyah George: Honestly, I feel like I could’ve had a better opportunity especially for outdoor because they only took the top 10. COVID messed everything up, but you just have to take it day-by-day.

Colby Jennings Jr.: It was really, really, really kind of spaced-out. Our teammates had to be in groups of three. It’s hard.

Chrissani May: Well, it was quite a setback, but where are getting there. We are training hard each day to go and perform.

Aliyah George

The Clarion: Do you feel confident about this season?

Aliyah George: I’m coming back. I feel like it could be better, but you just have to be patient and trust the process.

Colby Jennings Jr.: Well, since last meet I think I ran about three races. I’m a bit tired right now, but after this week I think we have conference coming up. I’m feeling good that I have enough time to rest.

Chrissani May: We feel pretty good. We’re training really hard to run our PB because that’s the aim to run track and field.

Colby Jennings Jr.

The Clarion: Are you confident in going to the finals?

Aliyah George: Yes, I am. I always make the top four at every meet so, that kind of motivates me and make me work harder.

Colby Jennings Jr.: I’m super-confident.

Kimone Cambell and Chrissani May: Yes, we are.

The Clarion: Because you are not from America, explain how training is different here.

Colby Jennings Jr.: I’m from Boston, but I was born in Turks and Caicos. It’s a huge difference because where I’m from we don’t have the facilities like here. It’s still hard because whenever we get hurt, it kind of backfires on us; we have to lookout for ourselves. We go to trainers, but they most likely recommend us to different physical therapist in this state. That’s one huge problem we have for the LU track team. We need more physical therapists.

Chrissani May: We (including teammate Kimone Campbell)  are from Jamaica. The climate is different from where we come from. We have a lot of support, which we don’t find here as much, but we are trying to cope with it.

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Springfest returns to LU campus

Springfest 2021

By Kaden Quinn

As the school year comes to a close, Lincoln University is hosting the annual Springfest event to celebrate their students one last time before the school year ends.

Throughout the year, students are able to celebrate their time at Lincoln through events such as Homecoming and Springfest. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school was unable to host the 2020 Springfest.

“Springfest is our big spring event that we do for the week to bring in lots of different events for the students,” Director of PR and Marketing Kenda Graves said. “It usually involves a concert, but obviously with COVID going on, we can’t do that right now. We’re just putting together a lot of fun big events for last hurrah before we get out of school.”

The events planned for Springfest include: a silent DJ battle, a skate night, a spelling bee, and a “Wipeout” obstacle course. There will be many other games and activities occurring April 18-April 23.

An annual event that has been occurring on campus for the past 20 years, Lincoln would like to bring back a sense of normalcy for students as the coronavirus continues to recede. However, while the school usually hosts musical performances for Springfest, they will be only focusing on what students will be able to do on campus in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“I wouldn’t say COVID has been a problem,” Graves said. “It’s more only of adjustment to abide by the guidelines and limitations that we need. We might not have everything but we are making sure that we’re still good to hold the event.”

Outside vendors will be working with administration to guarantee that their COVID-19 policies while match up with the university’s. LU will be going to great lengths to ensure that their students are able to have fun while also staying safe from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to make sure that student safety is the number one priority,” Assistant Director of Student Engagement and Greek Affairs Octoria Ridenhour said. “It has been a little challenging on my side but I had to put that on the vendors as well going forward.”

Graves and Ridenhour continued, explaining that she would like students to know that this is their big event before it is time for the university to wrap up the school year. Administration wants the LU community to know that Springfest is for students to have fun and celebrate their time together.

“I just want for everyone to understand that Springfest is for students,” Ridenhour said. “We always welcome alumni and different people back onto campus for different events but for Springfest, we like to consider this our students only celebration as their end of the year wrap up. This is for them to spend time with each other on their campus.”

“I’m ready for students to show that, yes, they are responsible,” Ridenhour said. “They can still come together even during COVID. We are still going to be making sure that masks are required at every event, we will be social distancing where we can, and we’re going to be sanitizing in between activities. We’re just covering everything and I’m ready for it to be successful.”

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Remembering the life of Robert Lee Mitchell Sr.

Robert Lee Mitchell Sr.

By Mar’Che Boggess 
JEFFERSON CITY- The man for whom Lincoln University’s Mitchell Auditorium was named passed away on April 14, 2021.  

Robert Lee Mitchell Sr. graduated from Lincoln University in 1956 with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. Upon graduating, he returned to his hometown of Dallas, Texas to teach at Madison High School while pursuing a master’s degree at North Texas University.

After receiving his master’s degree, he was invited to LU to work as a supervisor of student teaching at Laboratory High School and an instructor of music. Eventually, Mitchell became a full-time professor at the university.
In 1977, he founded L.U.V.E (Lincoln University Vocal Ensemble).  During his tenure at Lincoln University, he was a successful choir clinician and became the interim chairman of the Fine Arts Department. After he retired, he was still involved in many campus events, including organizing and conducting the Lincoln University Reunion Choir from 2004-2016.
He was preceded in death by his siblings and his wife Charlene Mitchell. 

Visitation will be 5-7 p.m. Thursday, April 22, 2021, at Dulle-Trimble Funeral Home. Facial coverings are encouraged while in attendance.  

A private family service will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday at Grace Episcopal Church. The service will be live-streamed on Dulle- Trimble’s website for those who wish to watch from home. 

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LU Artist Spotlight: Phil Jones

Phil Jones stands next to his sculptures inside Page Library. March 30, 2021. (Photo by Mar’Che Boggess)

By: Mar’Che Boggess

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY- If you’ve spent any amount of time in Page Library, you’ve probably come across artwork by Phil Jones, a 1997 graduate of Lincoln University. His sculptures of people connected to LU history can be found throughout the building – including Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr. Jones recently spoke with the Clarion News about his artistic work.

The Clarion: When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

Jones: I’ve always done art as long as I can remember. I can’t remember a time I when I wasn’t making art

The Clarion: What led you to LU?

Jones: I’m a third-generation alumni. My grandfather was the first person in our family to go to college. My mother went to college here as well. I majored in computer science and history.

The Clarion: LU has a rich history. In what way is your work able to capture that history?

Jones: I have been blessed to be used by Mark Schleer, the university archivist. When he needs pieces for something, I do it. I just like to give back.

The Clarion: Do you remember the moment when you first saw your work in Page Library? How did you feel?

Jones: I felt very proud to have work here.

The Clarion: What is your creative process when it comes to sculpting?

Jones: First, I try to find the best reference photo. I feel like I can do the details of the subject a lot more justice if I have more photos to draw from. Then, I sit down and put it on an armature. 

The Clarion: What’s your favorite piece that you’ve sculpted to date?

Jones: I think Abraham Lincoln is my favorite. To me, he looks like he could just blink his eyes at you and start talking to you. 

The Clarion: Do you have any advice for LU art students interested in sculpting?

Jones: Don’t ever stop. When you fail you learn a lesson. Take that lesson, forget the frustration, and just keep doing it.

The Clarion: What’s one sculpture that you’d love to see in the archives department one day?

Jones: I honestly don’t know. Anything the archives department asks of me.

The Clarion: Aside from sculpting, do you have any other creative hobbies?

Jones: I play guitar, I started playing in 1967. I teach high school and middle school art. I teach at Trinity Lutheran and Calvary Lutheran. I paint and write as well. I have a novel here in the library called “Manopoly: The Persian Affair.” I’m also working on a textbook about sculpting. 

The Clarion: What legacy do you want your art to leave on the LU’s campus?

Jones: One of these days my grandkids, my great grandkids, and my great-great grandkids will be able to walk in here and touch something I made with my hands. They’ll be able to say, “My grandpa did that.”

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