A federal appeals court ruled this week that officials at a Mississippi high school can’t be held liable for accessing the Facebook account of a cheerleader who allegedly threatened another member of the school’s squad.
The incident that led to the suit occurred in 2007, when a teacher and cheer squad sponsor “coercively requested” the Facebook log-in information of the plaintiff. The teacher had received reports from several students that the plaintiff had cursed at and threatened another student on a bus ride back from a cheer event, and that she had continued the abuse by sending threatening messages on Facebook. Once the teacher saw these messages in the plaintiff’s Facebook account, the student was suspended from cheer activities for two weeks.
The parents who filed the suit said that the teacher clearly violated their daughter’s constitutional rights, but the appeals court disagreed. In their ruling, the court said that Facebook was a new enough platform in 2007 that clear rules regarding privacy weren’t yet established, and that they did not have “fair warning” that accessing the girl’s account could violate her Fourth Amendment rights.
The girl’s parents, who weren’t represented by a lawyer in the case, said they were denied the chance to challenge the evidence in the case.
“We have not decided what our next step will be at this time, but either way the truth will be told,” they said. “We are saddened that children must continue to suffer under the hands of adult bullies.”