Privacy, Facebook, And School Abuse of Power

Riley StrattonIt can a bit late to the party, in my view, but the ACLU just delivered a crucial blow to Big Brotherism in the schools. Addressing an issue that Ethics Alarms flagged in 2011, Minnewaska Area Schools (in Minnesota) agreed to pay $70,000 in damages to Riley Stratton, a 15-year-old high school student,

for violating her rights. It also agreed, as part of the federal court settlement, to rewrite its policies to limit how far a school can intrude on the privacy of students by examining e-mails and social media accounts created off school grounds.

In 2012, the ACLU Minnesota Chapter filed a lawsuit against the Minnewaska School District after it suspended Stratton for a Facebook post, written and published outside of school, in her home, in which she expressed hatred for a school hall monitor who she said was “mean.”  After the suspension, Stratton used Facebook to inquire which of her “friends” had blown a whistle on her. School officials brought the young teen into a room with a local sheriff and forced her to surrender her Facebook password. Officials used it to searched her page on the spot; her parents were not consulted.

“A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it’s easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus,” Minnesota ACLU attorney Wallace Hilke said. “They punished her for doing exactly what kids have done for 100 years — complaining to her friends about teachers and administrators. She wasn’t spreading lies or inciting them to engage in bad behavior, she was just expressing her personal feelings.”

Not that it was any of the school’s business if she was spreading lies or inciting others to bad behavior. This phenomenon, where schools decide that they have a right to punish students for non-school activity, words and thoughts  was discussed on Ethics Alarms, and condemned as unethical, here, here, here, and here, and more recently here.

Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt protested (the school settled without admitting any wrongdoing) that the school only wants to make sure kids understand that actions outside of school can be “detrimental.” “The school’s intent wasn’t to be mean or bully this student, but to really remedy someone getting off track a little,” Schmidt said. Not your job, you officious, censorious, child abuser. This is the sole realm of parental authority. I have seen enough wretched judgement from your breed, Mr. Schmidt—like (I’m picking examples randomly) here, here, here, here and here—to convince me and anyone with a cerebral cortex that school administrators lack the training, wisdom and judgment to know what “going of track a little” is for a 13-year old.

Stay out of my kids’ life and my family’s life. You have enough trouble running schools properly…work on that.


Sources: Daily Caller, ACLU, Minnesota Star Tribune

24 thoughts on “Privacy, Facebook, And School Abuse of Power

  1. The situation with schools is getting worse each year. They are no longer a place of learning but an institute for indoctrination. From elementary school to university, administrators and teachers have more control over our children each day, and it is being used for thought control. Guns are bad. Don’t you dare point that harmless finger at me! Don’t you dare think outside our box we put you in. You can’t shave your head to show compassion. You best not stand up to that bully. Don’t dare question the teacher even if they are wrong.

    The ACLU is joining the table very late. Public outrage needs to reach the point where officials who abuse their position are removed immediately. I am beginning to see very little hope for the next generation if this doesn’t end soon. Schools are not a safe place for children anymore.

    • Late to the party is better than what they were doing: nothing. Let’s hope they continue improving and supporting the Bill of rights more actively.

  2. Much of this will stop when school district’s superintendent or heavy handed administrator is given the choice of paying the first $50,000 worth of litigation costs out of pocket, or resigning from such decision making authority. However with that said, I don’t believe that dollar denominated lawsuits should be the vehicle to achieve the needed changes. Furthermore, any financial awards that are obtained should be distributed to an unrelated third party to provide scholarships for all children in that district. They have all been harmed by the actions of the administrators.

    • Yeah, but all the students of the district were not taken into a room with a sheriff for force her to give away her password. Embarrassment and humiliation of a child means they should give an award and an apology. I doubt she got one since they have not admitted any wrongdoing. Getting that entire settlement means she can at least have her college totally paid for. (I hope the sheriff got reprimanded to as this is excessive force as well… but I also doubt it)

  3. It’s not just the kids. Starting this year all aides must apply to our district using an online form. At the end, before the form can be submitted the person applying for a job must check a box that gives the school district the right to check their credit report.

  4. I vote that if a court finds against a decision against such an administrator or teacher, they are fired completely and utterly – no hope of reinstatement, all pension forfeit. Zero Tolerance for idiocy.

    • Silly you, zero tolerance policies aren’t for the teachers and administrators, they are real people. They’re just for the kids, because they don’t count.

  5. School officials brought the young teen into a room with a local sheriff and forced her to surrender her Facebook password.

    I would like to point out that capitulation to such demands in the natural result of teaching children to respect all authority without question, especially the police.

    Had this been a kid of mine (or even me at that age), the cop and the school brownshirt administrator would have been told to go pound sand.

    OK, that’s a lie. They would have been told to get fucked.

    • I almost managed to land myself a suspension when a drug dog hit on my locker. They hauled me out of class to search it (fruitlessly, in the end)- the dog kept tryint to chew the cover off my math book while the cop laughed about it. I demanded they stop him biting it, since I didn’t feel like buying a new one, and got told I could be suspended for talking back to a cop. I was such a “good kid” I’m still surprised I had the balls to tell them I’d be quiet once they stopped destroying something I would have to pay for.

  6. “We’re not trying to bully the student or be mean.”

    There’s just… so very, very much wrong with that, I can’t even. Public schools have been carrying the banner of slapping the word “bullying” on every damn thing for years. From the province of beatings and extortion, down through mental anguish, and so on and so forth until laughing at someone or not being as nice as they want makes you a bully. Then when this kid tries to find out which of her “friends” isn’t a good one, they drag her in front of a COP? What absolute thuggish, statist, knuckle dragging, censorius fucks.

    Of course, I’m sure they have convinced themselves that THEY aren’t mean. After all, she’s just some stupid punk kid. They’re the grown ups, so they are right and the kid is wrong, and they’re just “helping” her understand.

  7. Another bozo school administrator. Herr Schmidt got caught with his pants down and his rationale that “he was really trying to remedy someone getting off track a little” is laughable.

  8. This sort of thing has gotten amazingly out of hand over the past few years. Are parents at last paying attention to this? One kind of scandal after another out of public school systems across the country.

    These are the same people who rely on Common Core because they can’t develop their own curricula, can’t understand that a “No Guns” sign won’t protect their campuses and can’t seem to keep sexual predators out of the classroom itself.

    These are also the “educators” that grant themselves huge salaries and build palatial new schools with the ever increasing tax burden they place on their constituents.

    I might also add that these are likewise those who impose nonsensical “No Tolerance” policies on its pupils, kowtow to “gender ambiguous” entities, reduce achievement levels to the lowest common denominator, work with unions that couldn’t care less about the children, discourage classroom discipline, refuse to allow any mention of God or prayer, trample on parents’ rights to visit or even pick up their children on- campus and, to keep themselves in office, tend to conduct ill-advertised elections when parents least expect them to keep their participation down.

    And if you DO oppose them in any way, you’re either thrown out of the board meeting or branded as “anti-intellectual”.

    A solution for all of this? Schedule the elections in synch with the other elections, force the districts to conduct open board meetings, forbid the ubiquitous “school bond” propositions and deunionize the teachers. Also; get your neighbors to wake the hell up as to what their children are being exposed to.

    Many school systems have declined far from the days when American public schools were the envy of the world. They won’t improve again until the parents grab these masquerading educrats by the backs of their grubby necks and toss them out of the board room.

    • Many school systems have declined far from the days when American public schools were the envy of the world.

      I can tell you from experience, they never were. And that’s from someone whose first schooling (in 1950s Iraq) was at the hands of a U.S. teacher; my parents had some trouble re-teaching me certain things as I took the view that seemed reasonable to me, that surely she knew her own job. Later, in 1960s Nigeria, the European community deplored the U.S. community approach of maintaining schools there rather than sending children back to boarding school (for one thing, the U.S. school in Lagos was in the same compound as a rehabilitation facility for injured soldiers from the Nigerian Civil War).

      • I certainly can’t answer for what kind of teacher you had in Iraq during the 1950s! And what is the prime concern of having schools for the children of American’s serving overseas located in-country? They certainly were for those of service personnel when I was stationed in Germany.

  9. I have no love for school administrators but I’d like to see some of the commenting folk try and run a dysfunctional school for a month. The reasons these people seem so stupid is, in part, because of the insidious dynamics that exist that leave them caught between kids that come from dysfunctional families, the expanding fallout from social media and the law. Heavy handed administrators often become that way because they routinely deal with children whose parents are little more than figureheads.

      • “Not my problem” is a NIMBY copout, frankly. It IS your problem. Schools are not the reason for the social rot around us.

        • Fuck you very much, it isn’t my problem. I am not the one tasked with teaching these kids – they chose that path. I am not the one responsible for figuring out their job, and it especially isn’t my job to figure out how they can do their job without violating the rights of the students.

          I don’t care if not invading the privacy of students makes their jobs harder – tough shit for them.

          • Yes. That showed me how correct your perspective is. Feelings mutual. It IS your problem when dysfunctional students create the dynamics where school’s can’t be run correctly. If you can’t see the bigger picture then I hope Idaho stays the way it is.

      • No, it’s only not a valid excuse for poor conduct when the commitment is freely entered into, because then it’s like the poor workman blaming his tools – he’s responsible for his tools too.

        But, as I once pointed out to someone seeking to counter my objections that way, I wasn’t blaming my tools, I was blaming their tools – they had insisted that a certain computer project be done only with the software that came bundled with the equipment, and had declined my request to program it in C.

        In the same way, it is perfectly sound to blame poor conduct on the difficulty of a job when the job is thrust upon someone. That is perfectly realistic, covering as it does: conscripts; people hit with “contracts of adhesion” of the sort you yourself have recently described; people who have had the job changed on them while they were doing it, say by having their staff, equipment and consumables withdrawn and facing them with the alternatives of doing a shoddy job or leaving the job undone (in the case of schools, almost literally leaving the administrators holding the baby); and so on.

        No doubt Pharaoh said “making bricks is your job, its difficulty is no excuse for poor performance” to the children of Israel.

  10. Pingback: Sixth Grader Wins $70,000. Settlement Against School For Demanding Her Facebook Password

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