A twelve-year-old Minnesota teenager is being punished by teachers at her Minnewaska Area Middle School for criticizing a Hall Monitor for “being mean” to her and for talking about sex with another student on her Facebook page. All of the teenager’s comments were made on her home computer and while she was at home. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the mother of the child have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on the teen’s behalf that her rights to protect her freedom of speech and freedom from illegal searches (First and Fourth Ammendments) were violated.
After finding out about the posts on the social networking site, school officials called the teenager out of class, interrogated and intimidated her including forcing the young girl to give them her Facebook login and password. The teenager was detained in a small room at the school and was reportedly scared and humiliated when school officials and a Sheriff’s Deputy read her private postings. According to legal papers filed by the ACLU, the mother of the teenager did not give permission for the school or Sheriff’s office to view her daughter’s Facebook page or postings.
The case exemplifies the growing concern in America that a person should have the right and ability to keep their private communications (including online accounts and e-mail information) private from schools, employers and the government. The lawsuit seeks an order that would keep school officials from regulating or disciplining students based on speech made outside of school hours and off school property and unspecified damages.
“The district is confident that once all the facts come to light, the district’s conduct will be found to be reasonable and appropriate,” said a Minnewaska School District spokesperson. Principal, Pat Falk said the teenager’s comments were “bullying.” The Principal gave the girl detention and told her to apologize to everyone involved. The next day the teenager made another posting on her Facebook page and used profanity regarding the person who had reported her. It was after this incident that school officials took the action that the ACLU, the girl and her mother believe has violated her rights. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out. I can’t help but wonder if School Officials don’t have better and more important things to do than reprimand students for their Facebook activities occurring after school and off school grounds. I think we should leave the online monitoring and any groundings to the parents.