Challenges punishment of a student for exercising her freedom of speech online; and for violation of her privacy rights

Case Description

In early 2011, R.S. posted a comment on her Facebook page about her dislike of a school staff member while at home on her own computer. The school soon learned about the comment and R.S. was punished with detention and was forced to write an apology to the staff member. She was disciplined again when she cursed on her Facebook page, complaining that someone reported her to the school. This time she was given an in-school suspension and was prohibited from attending a school field trip. The ACLU of Minnesota contends that these sanctions violate her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

In a second incident, R.S. was brought into a school administrator's office where she was coerced (against her will) to turn over login information to her Facebook and email accounts because of allegations that she had had off-campus online conversations about sex with another student. Present at the search was a local deputy along with two school officials. During this process, R.S. was called a liar and was told she would be given detention if she did not give the adults access to her accounts. R.S.'s mother was not informed about the search until after it happened. At no point did the deputy and school officials have a warrant to search R.S.'s private online accounts. In its suit, the ACLU of Minnesota alleges that this violated R.S.'s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The lawsuit seeks damages and declaratory and injunctive relief for the violations of R.S.'s constitutional rights.

2014 updates

The case is officially settled. The school district agreed to strengthen privacy practices and pay damages. 

2013 Updates

The case is currently in its discovery phase after the federal district court denied defendant's motion to dismiss.

2012 Updates

The ACLU of Minnesota filed its lawsuit against Minnewaska Area Schools and the Pope County Sheriff's Office on March 6, 2012.

Attorney(s)

Wallace Hilke and Bryan Freeman of Lindquist & Vennum PLLP and Professor Raleigh Levine, William Mitchell College of Law

Date filed

March 6, 2012

Court

United States District Court - District of Minnesota

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