Sep 262015
 September 26, 2015  Court, U.S., Youth & Schools

Venkat Balasubramani discusses a case involving student privacy where, once again, school officials get a pass for violating student privacy. Here’s the background on the case, as described by Venkat:

MJ was a high school student and cheerleader. On a school trip to a local news station to promote a charitable cause, the squad was told to be quiet by the cameraman. MJ apparently did not, and the captain of the cheerleading squad chastised her. Following this episode, MJ and the captain apparently exchanged words on Facebook. Among other messages, MJ said the following:

“i am so sick of you bossing me around . . . and so is other people on the squad . . . even tho they wont admit it but im not scared to . . . and im sorry for wat i did at the news station well not really”; “i mean im not tryin to be mean at all but if i have a problem with you . . . i will confront you about it and im not gonna be nice about it . . . and trust me . . . i dont care who you try and get to try and back you up”; “trust me, the next time you or anyone else goes off on me . . . im not gonna be nice and just say ok, there will be problems . . . and i may get kicked off the squad for it but at least it was for a good reason cuz my parents didnt raise me to not stick up for myself . . . you best believe that i will stick up for myself with anyone!”

The squad sponsor and a teacher (Hill) was informed that MJ made comments to the captain, and the teacher took the opportunity to educate the entire squad on the perils of social networking, includying “bullying, predatism, inappropriate photos, and other risks.” For good measure, she asked the entire squad to write down their Facebook password and log-in information. [d’oh!]

MJ turned over her password information, and based on the “offensive and threatening language” contained in her messages, Hill suspended MJ from the squad for two weeks. The precise consequences of her suspension and discipline were disputed, but MJ alleged that she was hazed by the team and denied a participation ribbon at a cheer competition, and generally suffered negative consequences on the squad. She was not invited to join the squad the following year. She also alleges that she was bullied following the teacher’s access of her Facebook page and the filing of the lawsuit. She ultimately moved out of the district.

She sued asserting section 1983 claims. The district court denied summary judgment, and the Fifth Circuit reverses, finding that the school officials are entitled to qualified immunity.

Read his analysis of the court opinion on Technology & Marketing Law Blog.

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