School That Punished Student for Facebook Comments Loses Lawsuit

Mar 28, 2014 05:10 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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A Minnesota school district will pay $70,000 in damages to settle a 2012 lawsuit centered on the school's decision to punish a student for remarks made on her Facebook account.

The Minnewaska School District has reached a settlement with the now 15-year-old girl, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, The Associated Press reported.

Riley Stratton was a Minnewaska Area Middle School sixth-grader when school officials looked at her Facebook and email accounts without permission, something the lawsuit claimed violated her constitutional rights.

Despite the fact that she was home and away from school computers at the time, the student was given detention for writing negative remarks about a teacher's aide on her Facebook account.

School administrators also looked through her online conversations with a boy after hearing the two were talking about sex over the computer, the lawsuit said.

"It was believed the parent had given permission to look at her cellphone," Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt said Tuesday, according to the AP. But that was not the case.

In the wake of the lawsuit, the school changed policy to require a signature from a parent to look through a student's cellphone.

The civil suit "sought unspecified damages and an order that would stop school officials from attempts to regulate or discipline students based on speech made outside of school hours and off school property," the AP reported.

The Strattons and the ACLU of Minnesota will divide the money from the lawsuit.

The key issue in the case was whether or not administrators could punish a student for something that happened off school property.

"There's lots of questions about whether schools should discipline kids for things that happen out of school," said Schmidt, as quoted by the AP.

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