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Privacy case involving Minnewaska sixth grader is settled

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A case involving the Minnewaska School District in Glenwood over the privacy rights of a student’s Facebook comments has been settled in federal court.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota succeeded in defending the rights of the student, Riley Stratton.

In 2012, the ACLU-MN filed a lawsuit against the Minnewaska School District for violating Stratton’s rights (she was a sixth grader at the time) when the district punished her for content she posted on her Facebook page.

The district forced her to turn over her passwords for her Facebook and e-mail accounts.

As part of the settlement, the school district agreed to strengthen privacy protections for its students and pay damages.

The school district admitted no liability in the settlement.

“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,” said Stratton. “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.”

According to the ACLU, Stratton was subject to “a baseless punishment” for a comment she made on her own Facebook page, while at home, about a school hall monitor.

A short while later, according to the ACLU, she was put through a traumatizing experience when she had her Facebook page searched by school officials, with police present at the search, because she allegedly had an online conversation about sex, with a boy, while at home.

The experience left Stratton distressed to the point where she no longer wanted to attend school, the ACLU said.

As part of the settlement, the school district agreed to change its policies to better protect students’ privacy and train its staff on the new policy to ensure it is correctly followed.

The district also agreed to a $70,000 settlement, which will be divided between the Strattons, for damages, and the ACLU-Minnesota to cover case costs and support the ACLU’s efforts to protect the civil liberties of Minnesotans.

“We are pleased with the settlement and hope this sends a clear message to other schools that it is bad policy to police students’ behavior on social media,” said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU-MN. “There may be times when it is appropriate for schools to intervene, but only in extreme circumstances where there are true threats or safety risks.”

Cooperating attorneys working on the case are: Wallace Hilke and Bryan Freeman of Lindquist and Vennum PLLP and Professor Raleigh Hannah Levine, William Mitchell College of Law along with Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU-MN.

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