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ACLU sues Minnewaska schools after student punished for teacher-bashing Facebook post

Whether Facebook posts are constitutionally protected speech remains a legal gray area.
Whether Facebook posts are constitutionally protected speech remains a legal gray area.

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit against Minnewaska Area Schools for alleged violations of a 12-year-old female student's constitutional rights.

In one string of incidents, the girl was repeatedly disciplined after posting on Facebook that she "hated" a teacher who had been "mean" to her. She later posted additional comments denouncing an alleged snitch who brought the original comments to the school's attention. In the second incident, school staff, with law enforcement personnel present, forced the girl to give the school her Facebook login information amid allegations she had online conversations with another student about sex.

The online activities in question took place at the girl's home on her personal computer.

After the teacher- and snitch-bashing incidents, the student, who is not named in the lawsuit, was given detention and in-school suspension, was forced to write the teacher an apology, and was banned from a school field trip. In the Facebook password incident, the student was allegedly forced to give up her personal information despite Minnewaska schools not having a search warrant. A sheriff's deputy and two school officials were present at the time.

The ACLU alleges that the first incident violated the girl's First Amendment rights, while the second violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The group is seeking damages and an order prohibiting school personnel from disciplining students based on speech made off-campus, after school hours.

Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the ACLU in Minnesota, told MPR that the student's free speech rights don't disappear at the schoolhouse door.

"The school is only able to regulate student's speech that is really likely to have a substantial disruption of the educational process. This is miles from meeting that [standard]," she said.

Meanwhile, Minnewaska school officials have refused to talk about the allegations.

Related:
-- Amanda Tatro, still upset about Facebook-post punishment, may appeal to U.S. Supreme Court


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