Constitutional Law

School to pay $70K to teen pressured to provide passwords after Facebook post critiqued staff member

A Minnesota girl has won a $70,000 settlement in a federal civil rights case.

Riley Stratton, now 15, contended her First Amendment right to free speech was violated when she was given detention for criticizing a hall monitor on Facebook outside of school and allegedly pressured by school officials and police to turn over her Facebook and email passwords after she had an online conversation with a boy about sex from her home computer, according to the Associated Press and the Star Tribune.

She was a sixth-grader at Minnewaska Area Middle School at the time of the incidents described in a March 2012 lawsuit (PDF) brought by her mother on her behalf. Her mother was not present when school officials and police demanded her passwords and searched her social media accounts, according to the suit.

A press release by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, which filed the lawsuit and will share in the $70,000 award, provides additional details.

“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 said in the release. “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.”

In addition to paying the $70,000 settlement, the district has also agreed to change its policies concerning Facebook and searches by school officials, which will now require a signed parental consent form.

Superintendent Greg Schmidt says officials thought Stratton’s mother had given them an OK to view her daughter’s accounts, the AP article reports, but did not have a signed consent form.

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