ACLU sues school district for student's social media free speech rights

The ACLU has brought suit against the Minnewaska (Minnesota) Area Schools and Pope County over invasions of students' privacy relating to a pair of incidents. In the first incident, a 12-year-old student was disciplined for complaining on Facebook that she "hated" a hall monitor who was "mean" (the school characterized this as "bullying"). In the second instance, a sheriff's deputy and school administrators required the student to turn over her Facebook password after her boyfriend's mother complained that the student and her boyfriend had been talking about sex on the social network.

In both instances, the student used her own, off-school computer to make the contentious remarks, after school hours.

The ACLU claimed a sheriff's deputy was present at the time, but there was no warrant. The group claimed this violated the girl's right to privacy and right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

"She was intimidated, frightened, humiliated and sobbing while school administrators were scouring her private communications," attorney Wally Hilke said in a statement. "These adults traumatized this minor without any regard for her rights."

The girl's mother filed the lawsuit on her daughter's behalf.

Apart from unspecified damages, the suit seeks a court order "restrain[ing] school officials from attempts to regulate or discipline students based on speech made outside of school hours and off school property."

ACLU sues Minnewaska schools, Pope Co. Sheriff's Office over student Facebook incidents (via /.)


  1. I do suspect that bullying may have occurred. However, I’m not quite sure that the school administration identified the location and perpetrator(s) correctly…

  2. Yes, bullying occurred. The institutionalized* bullying of the soft-core prisons we call “schools.” 

    On one hand, it is hard to watch what happens in schools under the pretext of education:  unconstitutional, oppressive and horrible bullying of children by adults. 

    On the other hand, it is great to see the institution’s real educational message coming through loud and clear: obey, don’t take risks, do not question authority or the trivia you’re fed, go for the rewards and remember, we call the shots and you and your rights don’t matter.

    It is only ironic that schools are built on the very principles of bullying and intimidation and at the same time flaunt “zero tolerance policies” towards bullying. In a logical universe that would cause them to self-destruct :)

    *Excluding democratic schools, and to some extend Montessori and Waldorf schools.

  3. In Arlington, Texas the school handbook is so broad in defining cyber-bullying that anything you do on-line that disturbs anyone can be punishable and the school district can suspend you.  Keep in mind, that covers posting comments or materials at non-school related events. The same school district will suspend you as a student if you are caught by police engaging in underage drinking off-campus and at an unrelated event. 

    The school district does not take the student to a judge, there is no warrant issued, there is no due process. In essence, your school administration acts as though it has the power to act as judge and jury over your child’s future; unless you can afford an attorney to advocate and threaten legal action. Hence, children from disadvantaged families have no method of contesting a school districts’ policies putting those statistically ‘at risk’ children in even greater jeopardy of falling in to the Texas ‘school-to-prison pipeline’.

    1. I’m not surprised.  I went to Dunn Elem for a couple years way back in the day.  They sent a kid home for wearing a “life’s a beach” t-shirt.  Extrapolate forward, and you can see how the pipeline was formed.  At least in Arlington.

  4.  Facebook is quickly becoming the “It’s a Small World” of the InterWebz.  I.e., happy happy joy joy, totally sanitized.  I don’t post even half the weird shit I used to post when FB was young.  Now, my mom’s on it, family, work people, friends of bosses, etc etc.  So I don’t let it hang out as much as I used to.  Which is fine… party’s over, find a new party if you really wanna party.  Otherwise, it’s Kaliber and O’Douls for web dissent.

  5. I live just a few miles from Minnewaska (it’s the next district over) and the over-all feeling that I have heard from the public I have talked to is simple disbelief that officials really could be that stupid.  It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

    But, it is kind of a broader problem that is just starting to emerge out here in the sticks of MN.  Some officials and teachers really do take things way too far and I have seen some that does come close to crossing the line of legality.  It is nice to know that the district and the sheriff got called out on this one. 

  6. IANAL…but I am an elected member of a school board in Massachusetts, and as chair of the policy committee for that district, I recently had to rewrite our bullying policy based on changes in state law regarding bullying.   As such, I can say with some assurance that because of what some of us refer to with gritted teeth as the “nexus clause” (in which activities outside of school in any environment, virtual or real, which affect school comfort zones are considered “school bullying” by law, and are thus the school’s “problem” to manage), at least the first of these activities would actually count as bullying under both school policy and law in MA, assuming the hall monitor FELT that the facebook message created a hostile environment or “emotional harm” in the hallways.   

    I do not defend this, mind you.  I merely note that if Minnesota has similar laws, then the school will almost definitely win their case against the 12 year old.  And any  request for “a court order “restrain[ing] school officials from attempts to regulate or discipline students based on speech made outside of school hours and off school property.”” would either be laughed out of court in this state…or would result in a judge declaring existing school bullying law unconstitutional.    Either way, the school would not be liable.
    Happily, at least thus far, Massachusetts schools have no power that I know of to force a student to turn over their facebook password, or indeed to push past privacy laws in those outside-school spaces, virtual or real.   The second case would thus likely remain hearsay-based, unless a school was stupid enough to write policy that specified police-state powers to enforce their obligation to pursue fact-finding in “nexus” cases, in which case I’d expect the ACLU to successfully sue them for policy that interfered with reasonable in-family relations and privacy laws.

  7. I see a business opportunity:  not only do kids need to be taught: Never Talk To Cops, they also need to be educated about their  legal rights vis-a-vis assault by their schools.   I am sure that most parents would gladly fork over  a few hundred bucks to have Junior do a couple of weekend workshops to avoid having their lives ruined by petty, scum-bag idiot functionaries.

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