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Demanding A Student’s Facebook Password A Violation Of First Amendment Rights, Judge Says | THE JEENYUS CORNER

 

TechDirt.com

from the well,-we-all-know-who-the-REAL-bully-is-here… dept

For some strange reason, a large number of schools adhere to the notion that their students are not actually citizens of the United States and therefore, not granted the same rights as the “grownups.” The rationale for the limitation of these rights usually involves the word “safety,” a word that has been (ab)used in various forms to curtail rights of full-grown American citizens in other arenas.

This isn’t to say that all, or even most, schools are violating students’ rights, but the sheer number of incidents reported isn’t very comforting. Fortunately, some decisions are being handed down that should, if nothing else, provide precedent for those challenging administrative overreach.

On September 6, a decision was handed down in a suit brought against the Minnewaska Area School District (Minnesota), dealing with a twelve year old student who was coerced into giving school officials the password to her Facebook account so they could search it for messages they deemed inappropriate.

R.S. was a twelve year old student at a Minnewaska Area middle school. She posted a message to her Facebook page about an adult hall monitor at her school:

“[I hate] a Kathy person at school because [Kathy] was mean to me.”

The post was only accessible to her friends. One of her friends brought the post to the attention of the administration. The principal called R.S. into his office and told R.S. “that he considered the message about Kathy to be impermissible bullying.” (???) As a result of the message, R.S. was required to apologize, given detention, and received a disciplinary notation in her records. R.S. was disciplined a second time when she expressed her chagrin that someone had told on her (“I want to know who the f%$# told on me.”) [“f%$#” in original] This time she was disciplined for “insubordination” and “dangerous, harmful, and nuisance substances and articles.” (???)

Venkat Balasubramani has added his own punctuation to some of the more dubious or ridiculous statements made by school officials. First off is the charge of “impermissible bullying” (there’s a “permissible” variety?), a broad term used nearly as often by school administrators as “disorderly conduct” is used by cops.

In essence, “R.S.” was punished for “being a kid” (i.e., not liking something that happened at school, complaining, being ratted out and complaining about that, etc.). The handling of this first incident makes the school appear to be as vindictive and thin-skinned as the child they punished.

This isn’t the end of the story, however. The school also received a complaint from a parent that R.S. was discussing “sexual topics” with another student “on the internet.” For whatever reason (most likely stated as “concern for her safety”), the school decided to pull R.S. from class and grill her about the particulars of these conversations. Apparently, her answers weren’t good enough, so three school counselors and a taser-armed cop interrogated her until she gave up her Facebook password. They proceeded to search her account, including private messages, for evidence of these conversations. Still not satisfied, they decided to search her private email messages.

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