Teen Wins $70,000 Settlement After School Searches Through Her Facebook
The Minnesota teenager who was forced to tell school officials her Facebook password was awarded $70,000 in damages.
The trouble began two years ago when Riley Stratton, then 13, posted on her Facebook that she hated a school monitor because she was mean. Stratton made the comment out of school time.
The Minnewaska Area School at which she was a student was alerted, and Stratton was given an in-school suspension.
Later, Stratton went back on Facebook and asked who had told on her. School officials have construed the move as potentially threatening to other students.
"I was a little mad at whoever turned me in 'cause it was outside school when it happened," Stratton said on Tuesday.
Stratton's attorney, Wallace Hilke, took the case pro bono with the American Civil Liberties Union. In the lawsuit, Hilke claimed that officials had violated Riley's constitutional rights by viewing her online accounts.
"She wasn't spreading lies or inciting them to engage in bad behavior, she was just expressing her personal feelings," Hilke stated.
After the incident, Stratton was again brought before school officials in response to another complaint, this time from a parent who complained that Stratton had engaged in an online conversation "of sexual nature" with her son.
The sixth-grader was forced to tell school authorities her Facebook password so they could check her private messages.
"I was in tears," Stratton recalls. "I was embarrassed when they made me give over my password."
The girl's mother, Sandra Stratton, said that although the school had informed her of the complaint, she had not been told that her daughter was expected to surrender her password.
After the incident, Stratton fell behind on schoolwork because, as the lawsuit describes, she was "too distraught and embarrassed to attend school."
In addition to paying $70,000 in damages, Minnewaska Area Schools have agreed to rewrite their policies, which now stipulate that signed consent must be obtained from the student's parent. Additionally, the new rules state that electronic records and passwords created off-campus can only be searched if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they will uncover violations of school rules.