School Interrogates Child Over Facebook, Faces Lawsuit
The Bill of Rights does not have an age limit, yet, according to a lawsuit, one school in Minnesota treats students as if the Constitution was never written.
A Minnesota school district faces a lawsuit after it allegedly held a 12-year-old student against her will and without her parent’s knowledge and forced her to relinquish her Facebook password. The school also punished the student for postings made to Facebook, even though those postings were not made while on school grounds.
According to reports concerning the girl’s complaint, named only as R.S. in court documents to protect her remaining privacy, in early 2011 she posted a statement on her Facebook page stating that she did not like a school staff member. According to CNN, the girl said that the staff member, an adult school hall monitor, was “mean.”
That statement mysteriously made its way into the hands of school officials who promptly retaliated.
“Somehow,” CNN reported, “the school principal got a hold of a screenshot of the message, and punished R.S. with detention and made her apologize to the hall monitor, the complaint says.”
From here, the situation snowballed and quickly went from bad to much worse. The young girl, quite naturally angered by the fact that she had been turned in, took again to Facebook to complain, even using an expletive to underscore her displeasure. This again fell into the hands of officials who suspended her, causing her to miss a school ski trip.
In another incident, “according to the complaint, R.S. was called in by school officials after the guardian of another student complained that R.S. had had a conversation about sex on Facebook,” CNN said.
Though not terribly surprising, it is disconcerting, at minimum, that a middle-school student, allegedly, would be taking to Facebook to discuss sex. Coming into information that this might be happening, the natural expectation would be that school officials would alert the child’s parents or guardians so that they could work to correct the child’s behavior.
Much more disconcertingly, this reasonable course of action was not the one that the school choose to use. Instead, it used the school equivalent of police-state interrogation methods to intimidate and to coerce the child.
According to the lawsuit, R.S. was called into a “meeting” with a deputy sheriff, a school counselor and another unidentified school employee. Thus surrounded by agents of the state “she was ‘intimidated’ into giving up her login and passwords to her Facebook and e-mail accounts,” CNN reported.
According to the Minnesota ACLU, which filed the lawsuit against the school district and the Pope County Sheriff’s office, this incident violated the law.
During the interrogation, the ACLU said in a statement, “R.S. was called a liar and told she would be given detentions 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. The Deputy and school officials did not have a warrant to search R.S.'s private accounts. The ACLU-MN alleges in their suit that this violated R.S.'s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.”
In response, the school says it has done nothing wrong, and in fact characterized its response as “reasonable.”
"The district is confident that once all facts come to light, the district's conduct will be found to be reasonable and appropriate," the district said according to CNN.
The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees.
"Students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the school house gate," said Charles Samuelson, Executive Director for the ACLU-MN. "The Supreme Court ruled on that in the 1970s, yet schools like Minnewaska seem to have no regard for the standard."
Wally Hilke, an attorney cooperating on the lawsuit, said the school’s tactics left a young girl frightened and traumatized.
"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," Hilke said. "These adults traumatized this minor without any regard for her rights."
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