School Agrees To Pay Student $33,000 After Teacher Dug Through Her Phone To Find Private Nude Photos
from the privacy dept
The ACLU has announced that a school district in Pennsylvania has settled the case it brought against the district for suspending a student after discovering nude photos on her mobile phone. Apparently, the phone was confiscated after the student used the phone during her homeroom period — a violation of school policy. That part was fine. Where it became a problem is that the teacher then went through her phone and found some “explicit” photos, described as nude photographs of the girl, which she only had intended to show her boyfriend. The student was then suspended — and there were threats from prosecutors of charging her with child pornography. The student and the ACLU argued that the school and the teacher had no right to explore the contents of the phone that it had confiscated — and the school has now agreed to pay $33,000 to settle the lawsuit. As the ACLU notes, this is an area of some confusion, but schools should remember that students do have privacy rights:
The ACLU-PA hoped to use this case to help alert school officials across Pennsylvania to students’ privacy rights in their cell phones. Very little case law exists discussing student-cell-phone searches. While the settlement forecloses a court ruling, the case has led the ACLU-PA to contact the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), which this week agreed to work with the ACLU towards crafting guidelines for teachers and school officials to help them better handle situations involving student cell phones and other electronic devices without unlawfully invading student privacy. Walczak noted that the goal was to prevent future violations of students’ constitutional rights.
However, the overall case is not over, as the ACLU is still pushing forward in a lawsuit against the prosecutor, who is still claiming that the activity of this, and a few other girls, counted as child pornography.