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.”.
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.