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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
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School Went Wild on Facebook, Mother Says

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - A mother claims her daughter's school punished the 12-year-old girl for criticizing a "mean" hall monitor on her Facebook page, then forced the girl to turn over her Facebook and email passwords so it could search her private, off-campus accounts.

S.S., the mother of R.S., sued Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149, its Superintendent Gregory Ohl, Pope County and its Sheriff Timothy Riley, and other school and county officials, in Federal Court.

"This is an action to obtain damages, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief for violations of R.S.'s constitutional rights," the complaint states. "The school district defendants have violated R.S.'s First Amendment right to free speech by imposing school discipline for non-threatening, non-obscene, off-campus, Facebook speech having no connection to Minnewaska Area Middle School other than its content: a typical young girl's comment that she 'hated' a school hall monitor who had been 'mean' to her. The school district defendants have overreached by punishing R.S. for off-campus speech with no evidence that R.S.'s speech was reasonably likely to cause a material and substantial disruption of on-campus educational activities."

The mom claims the school put her daughter in detention for bullying and forced her to write the hall monitor an apology letter.

Later, she was suspended for a day and banned from a class ski trip because of a second Facebook post that stated, "I want to know who the f%$# told on me," according to the complaint.

The mother claims that in March 2011, a parent called the school claiming that her son and R.S. were chatting about sex online.

Middle school counselor Mary Walsh, a defendant, defendant Pope County Deputy Sheriff Gilbert Mitchell, armed with a Taser, and a Jane Doe defendant then called the girl into a school office and a "demanded that R.S. give them her email and Facebook login information and password," the mother says. Her daughter "involuntarily" gave them the information, and "Counselor Walsh and Jane Doe logged into R.S.'s Facebook account, apparently using Deputy Mitchell's computer," according to the complaint.

"During the search, the group members took notes and discussed what they saw in R.S.'s private Facebook account," the complaint states. "While R.S. was in the room, they expressed surprise that R.S. had sworn in her communications and asked her why she had used a swear word. The group also expressed surprise that R.S. had taken one or more online Facebook 'fun and funny' sex quizzes and had posted the results of some of those quizzes. R.S. continued to be detained and sat in the room humiliated while Deputy Mitchell, Counselor Walsh and Jane Doe scoured her Facebook account and private information. ...

"R.S. was intimidated, frightened, humiliated, and sobbing while she was deatined in the small school room with Deputy Mitchell, Counselor Walsh and Jane Doe, the school office employee. None of the adults expressed concern for R.S. or asked her why she was crying.

"At no time did anyone in the group ask R.S. whether she had communicated with her classmate about sexual subjects during school hours, using a school computer, or using school Internet access. In fact, R.S. had used her own computer to communicate with her classmate at home after school hours."

The mother says school officials informed her about the illegal search, which was executed without a warrant, after it was over.

The girl and her mom seek damages conspiracy to violate her constitutional rights, violations of her constitutional right, unreasonable search and seizure, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They are represented by Wallace Hilke, with Lindquist & Vennum, and the ACLU of Minnesota.

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