The ACLU is declaring victory in a lawsuit against the Minnewaska, Minnesota School District–one that could have implications in how schools construct privacy policies around students and their off-campus social media use.
The story focuses on Riley Stratton, who the ACLU claimed had her First and Fourth Amendment rights violated on two separate occasions.
In 2011, the then sixth-grader took to Facebook (on her own time) to complain about a staff member at her school. The Star Tribune identifies the target of her criticism as a hall monitor. When her school found out about the post, they gave Stratton detention and forced her to handwrite an apology. Days later, she took to Facebook again to complain about whoever snitched on her, used some rough language, and was disciplined again. Her school suspended her and barred her from attending a school field trip.
According to the ACLU, this is a clear violation of her First Amendment right to free speech.
But it didn't stop there. On a second occasion, Stratton was hauled into her administrators' office when another parent complained about an off-campus sexual-in-nature Facebook conversation that Stratton had been having with their kid.
I'll let the ACLU take it from here:
...She was coerced (against her will) to turn over login information to her Facebook and email accounts...Present at the search was a local deputy along with two school officials. During this process, R.S. was called a liar and was told she would be given detention if she did not give the adults access to her accounts. R.S.'s mother was not informed about the search until after it happened. At no point did the deputy and school officials have a warrant to search R.S.'s private online accounts. In its suit, the ACLU of Minnesota alleges that this violated R.S.'s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
Yeah, you think?
"The trauma that these incidents have put R.S. through is completely uncalled for: She was intimidated, frightened, humiliated and sobbing while school administrators were scouring her private communications," said attorney Wally Hilke at the time of the lawsuit filing. "These adults traumatized this minor without any regard for her rights."
Now, two years later, the case has been settled. The school district will way $70,000 in damages, and are also being forced to update its privacy policies "to better protect students' privacy and train its staff on the new policy."
The new rules make it clear that passwords created off-campus can only be searched and online information behind them obtained if "there’s a reasonable suspicion they will uncover violations of school rules," according to the Tribune.
Although this sounds like it still leaves the door open for some abuse of power, the ACLU seems pleased with the settlement.
"We are pleased with the settlement and hope this sends a clear message to other schools that it is bad policy to police students behavior on social media," stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN. "There may be times when it is appropriate for schools to intervene, but only in extreme circumstances where there are true threats or safety risks."
Other school districts should think long and hard before dragging a student into an office with a cop and demanding their social media passwords. You know, unless they likes lawsuits and giving away money.
Image via ACLU-MN