There was a case in Huntsville, Alabama where the school system was called out for mining students’ Facebook posts. The system’s excuse – they were trying to prevent potential violence on campuses. There was a pretty big brouhaha over it, as there probably should have been; do you want your child’s school, in essence, spying on him or her?A Minnesota middle school has taken the issue to a whole new level. While they were not apparently perusing their students’ social media accounts, they did use one student’s post as a reason for punishment.
A sixth grader wrote on her Facebook wall that she hated a teacher’s aide at her school. In this case, another student who read the post told the principal. At first, the principal gave the student detention for being “discourteous” and instructed her to apologize to the aide.
A few days later, the student received in-house suspension and was not allowed to go on a field trip with her classmates. This was her punishment for another “inappropriate post” on her Facebook wall.
But that was not to be the end of it all. A few months later, another student’s mother discovered that the girl had been writing sexually explicit messages on her son’s Facebook wall. In fact, they had been conversing with each other. So, the boy’s mother called the school’s administration.
This time, the girl had to face the principal, a school counselor and the police officer assigned to the school. The school demanded that she give them her Facebook password, which she did.
Her mother says that when she returned home from school that day, she was very upset and embarrassed, and did not want to return to school. She said her daughter was also afraid that the school would continue to hack into her accounts.
This is where the ACLU got involved. According to the suit filed, “She was posting on Facebook after school, when she was off the school premises, using her own computer and Internet access.”
Her ACLU attorney, Wallace Hilke says, “This was one of the most blatant violations of a student’s constitutional rights that I’ve ever come across.” Hilke maintains that in punishing the girl, the school not only overreached its authority but also infringed on her right to free speech.
The school, of course, appealed and lost at the appellate level. The school district finally settled the case, agreeing to pay the student $70-thousand. The district was also ordered to revise its policy to make it clear to school administrators what they can and cannot do, legally, when it comes to monitoring a student’s social media.