ACLU Lawsuit Gets Minnesota Student $70,000 In Damages After School Takes Her Facebook Password

A Minnesota school district has agreed to pay $70,000 in damages after viewing a teen's Facebook and email accounts without permission. Minnewaska Area Schools is shelling out the cash to settle a case in which a former sixth-grader was given detention after posting disparaging comments about a teacher's aide on social media. The state's ACLU branch brought the lawsuit against the school district, claiming Riley Stratton's constitutional rights were violated in the process.

Stratton, now 15, was in sixth grade when she used her home computer to post an angry message on Facebook saying she hated a school hall monitor because she was mean. School officials were informed and the student was given in-school suspension. Stratton then went back on social media to ask who had snitched on her. (Probably not the best idea.)

Soon after, a parent complained to the school about a sexual Facebook chat Stratton was allegedly having with her son, which prompted administrators to call Stratton back for investigation. This is where things get a little dicey: with a deputy sheriff present, the school demanded she give over her account information, and went through her Facebook in front of her.

“I was in tears,” Stratton told the Star Tribune. “I was embarrassed when they made me give over my password.”

The ACLU represented the student in the 2012 lawsuit. Stratton's mother said she wasn't present when her daughter was interrogated, though it was believed that a parent had given permission to look at Stratton's cellphone.

Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt told the Associated Press the school district didn't have signed consent, which is now a policy requirement. Still, Schmidt, who wasn't in charge at the time of the incident, defended the school's actions.

"Some people think schools go too far and I get that,” Schmidt told the Star Tribune. “But we want to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental... The school’s intent wasn’t to be mean or bully this student, but to really remedy someone getting off track a little.”

Among the district's changes are rules saying electronic records created off-campus can be searched only if there’s reasonable suspicion they violate school rules. The case raises questions in the heated debate of whether schools can monitor student's social media use. Should kids be disciplined for actions that happen outside educational facilities? Students still have the right to free speech on the Internet, but in safety efforts, more school are stepping up to keep track of online interactions.

As for Stratton, she said she's glad the ordeal is over and hopes other schools elsewhere will take example in dealing with other students.