School Coughs Up $70k In Damages For Invading 13 Year Old's Social Media Space

from the everwhere-is-the-campus? dept

A couple of years ago, Tim Cushing wrote up the story of a Minnesota student who was forced to give her social media passwords to a school so they could snoop through her off-campus life and develop a couple of life-lessons for her. Those life lessons appeared to have essentially amounted to recognizing that school administrators too often see themselves as parents and they think students’ free speech rights end where an administrator’s interest in his/her students’ lives begin. Fortunately, a judge disabused them of their misconceptions, stating in no uncertain terms that forcing a student to give up their social media passwords is a violation of the First Amendment. Common sense, how little we see of ye.

And now, to bring some closure to this story, the school is coughing up $70,000 in damages and rewriting their policies to prevent further abuse.

Minnewaska Area Schools agreed to pay $70,000 in damages and rewrite its policies to limit how intrusive the school can be when searching a student’s e-mails and social media accounts created off school grounds. The federal court settlement comes just after Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn, a 17-year-old honor student and football captain, was suspended for seven weeks for a two-word Internet posting in a case that created a community uproar.

“A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it’s easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus,” said attorney Wallace Hilke, who helped lead Riley’s case from the Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

While it would be quite easy to see the restitution as an “all good” ending to this story, the article unfortunately then goes on to quote Minnewaska school district administrators who still can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that it isn’t their job to police students’ off-campus behavior. Chief amongst them is Greg Schmidt, Superintendent, who wasn’t in that position when the snooping occurred but did work on the settlement.

“Some people think schools go too far and I get that,” Schmidt said. “But we want to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Schmidt, the general public doesn’t much care that he wants to teach kids all kinds of lessons about their personal lives. That isn’t a public school’s role, never has been, and never should be. Parents parent and schools…er, school? Regardless, getting involved in students’ private lives is a gross misstep. The student’s mother agrees.

“They never once told me they were going to bring her into the room and demand her Facebook password,” Sandra said. “I’m hoping schools kind of leave these things alone so parents can punish their own kids for things that happen off school grounds.”.

Hope? Hope!?! How about demand? While the new rules crafted by the district limit school’s from looking into social media exchanges unless there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they will find actions or speech that violates school rules, how quickly do you think we’ll hear a story about that leeway being abused? It’s high time for parents to insist that they be allowed to parent their own children and for schools to focus on teaching academics, rather than life lessons.

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Comments on “School Coughs Up $70k In Damages For Invading 13 Year Old's Social Media Space”

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38 Comments
Coogan (profile) says:

?Some people think schools go too far and I get that,? Schmidt said. ?But we want to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental.?

Parents need to make school officials aware that their actions inside the school can likewise be detrimental. I doubt it ever occurred to Schmidt that he was ignoring the very “lesson” he was trying to teach.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Questions

While the new rules crafted by the district limit school’s from looking into social media exchanges unless there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they will find actions or speech that violates school rules…


What if the ‘school rules’ violate the First Amendment?

What is the definition of “reasonable suspicion” in their eyes?

Why do institutions feel they are above the law, and not report crimes to authorities claiming to adjudicate things themselves? Churches, Universities, some large companies all think internal investigations are sufficient, resulting in at least the unreported rapes on college campuses and the Catholic Churches debacle with priests and children, and the failure of the banks, just for starters.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Questions

Why do institutions feel they are above the law, and not report crimes to authorities claiming to adjudicate things themselves?

Because authoritarians will not acknowledge that anybody has power over them, whilst at the same time claiming power over others. This leads to a state of anarchy, because they claim a right they will not grant others, and they fall to fighting amongst themselves to see who can come out on top.

Anonymous Coward says:

Policy changes...

The previous policy which allowed school officials to pressure students into releasing access to their private social media accounts will now be replaced with a series of zero tolerance policies which will require involving local law enforcement who will then obtain access to the social media accounts absolving the school district of responsibility for such violations.

Hold on a sec says:

Unfortunately for Mr. Schmidt, the general public doesn’t much care that he wants to teach kids all kinds of lessons about their personal lives. That isn’t a public school’s role, never has been, and never should be. Parents parent and schools…er, school? Regardless, getting involved in students’ private lives is a gross misstep.

This is going a bit far. I’d say acculturation is one of the main purposes of school, and part of that is learning how to deal with your “personal life.” Kids spend a ton of time at school, and teachers do plenty of what you’re calling parenting. I don’t think you can avoid it. Yes, in this case the district went too far, but it’s a matter of degree. Finding the right spots to intervene is what makes a good teacher.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

BS. This is the same attitude that is being displayed for zero tolerance when it comes to finger guns getting students expelled. You can’t have it both ways.

Either this is a free country or it is not. Right now it is anything but free for the individual with all this presumption that it is ok to access private effects because the school administration some how is really sensitive to it’s reputation as viewed by the public. This is exactly the same lesson being shown citizens from our government officials going all the way to the top.

It is also precisely what news is supposed to be about, is pulling in the excesses and exposing them for what they are.

I’d also like to point out that these schools can no longer administer corporal punishment precisely because parents object to it. This is a point of being far over the line in regards to the schools actions. When kids are off the school property what they do is not the schools concern unless it is a school sponsored event.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

When/if I have kids, I’ll go further, teach them one mantra if they are brought into any administrator’s office: “Can you please call my Mom and Dad? I want them here.” Repeat until one of us arrives, say nothing else. They want to question or discipline my child, they will do so in my presence.

Anonymous Coward says:

School Rules

“… the new rules crafted by the district limit school’s from looking into social media exchanges unless there’s a ‘reasonable suspicion’ they will find actions or speech that violates school rules …”

The problem is that actions and speech that violate school rules when they happen on school grounds or during school activities are not to be considered rule violations outside of that context. The school’s authority over student speech ends outside of school grounds and activities, as required by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The same should be true of student actions: actions that don’t significantly involve the school should never be considered rule violations.

In other words, there’s generally no such thing as “actions or speech that violates school rules” when students are not in school.

Groaker (profile) says:

While civil suits may provide some relief to the aggrieved child, they do nothing to curb the beliefs and behaviors of the martinets because it does not come out of their pockets.

As there is no reason to believe that a password would be given up without coercion, such behavior is likely to fall under criminal laws. But it seems unlikely that the criminal code will be applied to these molestations of children.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So lets start trolling the pages for the board, teachers, & staff for every little thing they do wrong or looks wrong so we can teach them their actions outside of school have effects.

I’m sure a photo of one of the drinking can be spun into why they might not be a good teacher or shouldn’t be around impressionable children.

If you want to play the over reach game, lets make it a 2 way street.

Groaker (profile) says:

Education

Too many schools are being run by martinets who are power hungry. They are far more interested in control over the lives of the students than they are in the education of these children. One SCOTUS judge said that Constitutional rights don’t end at the school door. Too many teachers and administrators need to learn that their control ends at the other side of that door.

The failings of US education are plain to see. According to the triennial international comparisons, US students rank 29th in Math and 22 in Science. This is below Estonia, and between Lithuania and the Slovak Republic. Teachers need to return to teaching, not “playing spy.”

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