Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Free speech, illegal search: R.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149

Here's what I don't understand about this case. If the mother who complained did not have access to the girl's Facebook page, then why should she be taken seriously? If she did have access, then why didn't she give the access information to the school?

R.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149
Threat Type: Disciplinary Action
Date: 03/06/2012
Status: Pending
Location: Minnesota

On March 6, 2012, R.S., a minor, and R.S.'s mother S.S., filed suit in federal court in Minnesota against Minnewaska Area Middle School, the school district, the county, and a number of school and county employees (including the county Sheriff). All of the individuals were sued in both their individual and official capacities, except for the Chair of the County Board (who was sued only in his official capacity). The complaint alleges a series of incidents involving R.S.'s out-of-school Facebook use.

The first set of events alleged in the complaint involve Facebook posts R.S. wrote about one of the school's adult hall monitors. R.S. allegedly complained on Facebook about the hall monitor, and the post was brought to the attention of the school. The post was, according to the complaint, "purely off-campus speech," having been written off hours, involving no use of school equipment. R.S. was given detention, and required to write an apology to the hall monitor. R.S. then posted again on Facebook, wanting to know "who the f%$# told on [her]." This second post earned R.S. one day of in-school suspension.

A subsequent Facebook-related incident began when another student's mother called the school, concerned that "her son was communicating via his computer with R.S. about sex." Eventually, R.S. was called into a room with two school employees and a Deputy Sheriff, who "demanded" R.S.'s email and Facebook login information. R.S. "eventually" gave the information "involuntarily," and the school employees proceeded to search R.S.'s Facebook account on the Deputy's computer. Again, the complaint alleges that all of R.S.'s communications were made off-campus, without using school equipment.

R.S.'s lawsuit alleges a number of federal and state law claims:

42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims, alleging violations of R.S.'s First and Fourth Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution;

42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986 claims, for conspiracy to violate R.S.'s constitutional rights, and failure to prevent the violation of her rights;

Violations of R.S.'s Minnesota state constitutional free-speech and freedom-from-unreasonable-search rights; and

State common-law claims of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint also seeks a declaratory judgment that R.S.'s constitutional rights were violated. For relief, the complaint seeks a mixture of injunctions, damages, changes to school policy and training, an apology, and costs/fees.

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