Minnewaska schools suedGlenwood students’ civil rights defended by ACLU in Federal Court. Minnewaska Area Schools has responded to a lawsuit filed on March 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU) on behalf of a minor student and her mother against the school and members of its staff.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Minnewaska Area Schools has responded to a lawsuit filed on March 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU) on behalf of a minor student and her mother against the school and members of its staff.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court, cites Minnewaska Area Schools in Glenwood, Minnesota and the Pope County Sheriff’s office for violating the constitutional rights of a 12-year-old student referred to as “R.S.”
The ACLU claims R.S.’s First Amendment right to free speech and her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures were violated by employees of the school district and the Pope County Sheriff’s Office.
In a statement released on Friday, March 9, the school disputed any wrongdoing.
“The district is confident that once all facts come to light, the district’s conduct will be found to be reasonable and appropriate,” Superintendent Gregory Ohl said.
Ohl said the ACLU statement is “one-sided.” He said that the school did not violate R.S.’s civil rights.
“The district stands behind the decisions made by staff, and the policies that exist to ensure school is a safe and welcoming place for all students and staff,” Ohl said.
ACLU bases its claim on events that took place in early 2011 when R.S. was reprimanded by the principal, Pat Falk, for comments she made about an adult hall monitor named Kathy.
Falk had obtained a screenshot of R.S.’s Facebook post. The ACLU stated that R.S. made the comment on her personal Facebook page from her home computer.
After a second Facebook post in which R.S. inquired on who told school officials about the original post, R.S. was coerced into providing school staff with her Facebook password.
In March 2011, a school employee informed R.S.’s mother, S.S., that a parent of a boy had contacted the school and reported that her son and R.S. had been discussing sex via computer.
The court complaint stated that school counselor Mary Walsh and an unidentified female school office employee read through R.S.’s private Facebook messages, as well as her public posts to Facebook friends, in search of evidence that she had been communicating with another student about sex.
It is not mentioned if his Facebook account was also investigated.
During the time Walsh and the office employee were searching R.S.’s account, Deputy Sheriff Gilbert Mitchell observed. The ACLU alleged it was a sheriff’s office laptop used to conduct the unwarranted search.
R.S. received detention, in-school suspension, was prevented from participating in a school field trip and was required to issue a written apology to the hall monitor.
The school reported that any viewing of R.S.’s Facebook account was done with the express consent of her parent. The ACLU stated, however, that “R.S.’s mother was not informed about the search until after it happened.”
The school believes the Facebook conversations were of a nature that contributed to a disruption of the learning environment and jeopardized the sense of safety for some in the school community.
“Bullying and community safety are concerns at the forefront of every parent and educator’s mind,” Ohl said.
The U.S. District Court Complaint can be viewed on the ACLU's website.