• Off-campus posts by 12 year-old about hall monitor brings detention and more

    Date: 04.10.12 | by Judge Tom.

    R. S. was a 12 year-old sixth-grader in a Minnesota public school. During the 2010-2011 school year, R. S. posted a comment on her Facebook profile that she hated a hall monitor for being mean to her. Somehow a screen shot of R. S.’s post made its way to the principal. R. S. was given detention for being rude and discourteous and had to apologize to the hall monitor.

    A few days later, R. S. wrote on Facebook, “I want to know who the f%$# told on me.” For that she received a one-day in school suspension and missed a class ski trip. All of her postings were done away from school and not on a school computer.

    Several months later, a parent complained to the school that R. S. was talking about sex with her son. A sheriff’s deputy and two school employees called R. S. to the office and demanded her email and Facebook passwords. Without a search warrant, the deputy searched her accounts.

    Photo by Anthony Quintano (Flickr)

    There are several legal issues involved with the school’s action and discipline of R. S. In March, 2012, R. S. filed a lawsuit* in federal court claiming a violation of free speech and Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Her lawyer argues that she should have been read her Miranda rights before being forced to give up her passwords. He also argues that a parent should have been notified and be present during the search of her computer. The complaint states that “R.S. was intimidated, frightened, humiliated and sobbing while she was detained in the small school room” as she watched a counselor, a deputy, and another school employee go through her private communications.

    In September, 2012, a federal district court denied the school’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Judge Michael Davis wrote  ”that the school officials implicated here were motivated by, and conducting themselves in accordance with, a ‘continuing, widespread, persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct.’” The lawsuit was allowed to continue.  Update:  It was later disclosed that R.S. was Riley Stratton. The case was settled in March, 2014. The school district agreed to pay Riley $70,000 and rewrite their social media policies regarding the monitoring of student online bahavior.

    What do you think about the discipline for her posts? Based on other stories on this site about student online speech done off-campus, was she appropriately disciplined or did the school overreact?

    *R.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149 (March 6, 2012).
    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    2 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Robert
      Tue, 10 Apr 2012 at 02:08

      I have to say, this is a step into making the young today compliant for tomorrows loss of freedoms. The child’s rights were definitely violated, as the school has zero right to tell a student what they can and can’t say when at home. There are many incidents of students being punished for personal comments made from home. There are also stories of some employers starting to require your social network (whichever you use, Facebook primarily though) login as condition of employment. This is over-reach and in violation of Constitutional law as I understand the Constitution, having read and studied it for years, including the language at the time it was written. The school should pay a fairly heavy restitution, as a lesson, and announce a VERY public apology to the student and her family. The one thing I don’t understand though, is that the school got word that she was discussing sex with her son.

      “Several months later, a parent complained to the school that R. S. was talking about sex with her son.”

      At age 12 she had a son old enough to discuss sex with? Excuse me?!? The school failed to use common sense as well as willfully violating the students rights! As it is, it is a parent’s duty, NOT the schools to discuss such matters with their children anyway…Anyone disagrees with me, feel free to argue with me!

    • Clare
      Mon, 29 Apr 2013 at 05:53

      @Robert:
      I believe the article was referring to the son of the parent who made the complaint, not the son of R.S.

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