Two years ago, the ACLU filed suit against Minnewaska Area Schools for disciplining a student who had posted a negative comment about a staff member while in the privacy of her home. As part of the district’s response, they demanded the student’s login credentials to Facebook. The case raised free speech and privacy issues.
This week, the ACLU of Minnesota announced that there’s been a settlement:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota succeeded in defending the rights of their client, Riley Stratton, with the settlement of their case against Stratton’s school. In 2012, the ACLU-MN filed a lawsuit against the Minnewaska School District for violating Stratton’s rights (she was a 6th grader at the time) when they unjustly punished her for content she posted on her Facebook page and forced her to turn over her passwords for her Facebook and email accounts. The case was recently settled and as a part of the agreement the School District agreed to strengthen privacy protections for its students and pay damages.
“I am so happy that my case is finally over, and that my school changed its rules so what happened to me doesn’t happen to other students,” stated Riley Stratton. “It was so embarrassing and hard on me to go through, but I hope that schools all over see what happened and don’t punish other students the way I was punished.”
In one humiliating ordeal after another, Stratton was subject to a baseless punishment for a comment she made on her own Facebook page, while at home, about a staff member from the school. A short while later she was put through a traumatizing experience when she had her Facebook page searched at school, with police present, merely because she allegedly had an online conversation about sex while on her home computer. Stratton’s mother was not informed about the search until after it happened. The whole experience left Stratton distressed to the point where she no longer wanted to attend school.
As part of the settlement the School District agreed to change its policies to better protect students’ privacy and train its staff on the new policy to ensure it is correctly followed. The School District also agreed to a $70,000 settlement which will be divided between the Strattons, for damages, and the ACLU-MN to cover case costs and support future ACLU-MN efforts to protect the civil liberties of Minnesotans.
“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.”
Cooperating attorneys working on the case are: Wallace Hilke and Bryan Freeman of Lindquist & Vennum PLLP and Professor Raleigh Hannah Levine, William Mitchell College of Law along with Teresa Nelson, Legal Director of the ACLU-MN.
The judgement can be found here.
More background of the case can be found here.
One of the terms of the settlement is that the student handbook will be revised to include this provision:
Students may be asked for permission to search their backpacks or orher personal items. When a search is voluntary, the student is free to withhold consent and a student’s refusal to consent to a voluntary search will not result in additional discipline or other adverse consequences.