Two years ago, Riley Stratton, then a 6th grader at a school in the Minnewaska School District in western Minnesota, was punished by administrators for posting after school on her Facebook page that she "hated" a teacher who had been "mean" to her. In a separate incident, administrators forced Stratton to hand over her Facebook login information and searched her page amid allegations she had an online conversation (also after school) with a boy about sex. (Read the backstory here.)
The ACLU filed suit against the school, arguing the first incident violated Stratton's First Amendment rights, while the second violated her Fourth Amendment rights. Yesterday, they announced victory: The school district has agreed to a $70,000 settlement, which will be split between the Strattons and the ACLU.
As part of the settlement, the school district also "agreed to change its policies to better protect students' privacy and train its staff on the new policy to ensure it is correctly followed," the ACLU announced in a statement.
"I am so happy that my case is finally over, and that my school changed its rules so what happened to me doesn't happen to other students," Stratton says. "It was so embarrassing and hard on me to go through, but I hope that schools all over see what happened and don't punish other students the way I was punished."
ACLU-MN director Chuck Samuelson acknowledges there are times when it might be appropriate for a school to compel a student to give administrators access to their Facebook, but says Stratton's case isn't one of them.
"We are pleased with the settlement and hope this sends a clear message to other schools that it is bad policy to police students' behavior on social media," Samuelson says. "There may be times when it is appropriate for schools to intervene, but only in extreme circumstances where there are true threats or safety risks."