Two years ago, then-13-year-old Minnesotan sixth grader Riley Stratton was suspended from school because of something she said on Facebook about a hall monitor. Riley then went online and demanded to know who had informed the school of her comments. Following that, she was brought to the school and made to hand over her Facebook password to a police officer and school officials after a parent allegedly told the school that she had sent sexual messages to the mother’s son.
As a result of the case, the ACLU brought a case against the girl’s school district on her behalf. The result: the MInnewaska district owes a $70,000 settlement in damages, and must now rewrite its social media policy to say that electronics may only be searched if the school has a reasonable suspicion that they will uncover violations of school rules.
Still, the case raises an issue that has come up more and more often in recent years: in the social media age, where does the jurisdiction of school stop and where does the privacy of the students begin?
“A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it’s easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus,” said attorney Wallace Hilke. “Kids’ use of social media is the family’s business, not the school’s business, unless it’s a case of cyberbullying or poses a substantial threat to school activities.”