The Minnewaska Area Schools in Minnesota have settled a lawsuit brought by the family of Riley Stratton and the local ACLU over an incident that happened two years ago. School officials told the then-13-year-old sixth grader she had to give them her Facebook password so that they could enter and search her Facebook account. A police officer was present. What was Stratton accused of doing?
Apparently, it started when she made a post (from home!) about hating a hall monitor who she said was being mean. Stratton got an in-school suspension for the infraction. Afterward, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, she went to Facebook to find out who snitched. An unidentified parent then accused her of having a Facebook conversation of a sexual nature with her son. For that, school officials hauled Stratton in, took her Facebook password, and went through her account. It's unclear what they found, but the district did not accept any liability in agreeing to the $70,000 settlement, and it is still defending its decision. Via the Tribune:
Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt…says the case teeters on a fine line over when schools can play a parenting role to combat things such as cyberbullying.
"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."
He wasn't in charge at the time…but he was involved in the settlement and said: "The school's intent wasn't to be mean or bully this student, but to really remedy someone getting off track a little."
Who is this guy? A credentialed educational "expert," no doubt. When I was in middle school, if a teacher or administrator were hanging around the park or other places young people congregated to listen in on their conversation, he'd be considered a creep. Even if someone did complain to an administrator about something someone said outside of school, it seems unthinkable that the administrator would take it seriously.
Ensuring a smooth-running classroom and school is enough of a task without policing children outside of school to boot. "Getting off track a little" is something that could merit, for example, a phone call home. Certainly it doesn't justify a brutish invasion of privacy.
Though the district did not admit any liability in the incident, it did agree to new restrictions that limit searches of online accounts to when there's "reasonable suspicion they will uncover violations of school rules." Even this is unreasonable. School rules aren't laws, and they shouldn't be something students can break while operating online and off-campus. Would a school claim the power to search a student's bedroom for cheat sheets?
Mercifully, Riley, who doesn't want to return to any school after the humiliating experience, is now homeschooled.