School District Pays $70,00 to Settle Lawsuit over Facebook Posts

A Minnesota student’s legal battle over Facebook posts could send a loud message to schools across the country, redefining a schools’ rights to search students’ devices and social media accounts without reasonable cause.

The Minnewaska School District has agreed to pay $70,000 to settle the 2012 case involving former sixth grade student Riley Stratton, now 15-years-old.

In a telephone interview with ABC News, Stratton said the ordeal began after she posted negative comments on her Facebook page about a teacher’s aide. She was at home at the time and not using the school’s computer.

“I posted on my Facebook and said I didn’t like the Kathy person…I hated this Kathy person because she was mean,” Strattton said.

Although she was not using a school computer and was not even in school at the time, Stratton says she received a detention and was forced to write a letter of apology. It did not end there. Several days later, school officials received a complaint that Stratton and a male classmate were having explicit private conversations on Facebook, again, not on school computers. That is when she states that school officials made a demand.

“They interrogated me and told me to give them my password,” she said.

“I didn’t want detention, so I had to give them this.”

The American Civil Liberties Union took on the case, saying Stratton’s constitutional rights were violated, including the right to free speech and privacy. They sued for “emotional distress,” among other things.

The two sides settled, and while the school district is not admitting any wrongdoing, Superintendent Greg Schmidt says the district has updated its policies regarding the search of devices and social media accounts.

“We’ll be certainly much more cautious about punishing people for things they say off-campus outside of school time,” Schmidt said.

Stratton said, “I lost trust in adults. I’m just happy it’s over.” She is now home-schooled.

Would you take action if school officials demanded your child’s password?

Feel free to comment on this blog post. For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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