What would you think if your district public school superintendent sent you a letter advising that the education authorities have the right to search a student’s room at home for evidence of any school rules or disciplinary violations if they have reason to think your kid is guilty? I’m sure you’d think that’s not possible, right? It plainly violates the Constitution.
Never-mind that Illinois lawmakers decided last year; they passed a law providing essentially the same kind of thing. Now Illinois parents are getting letters from school authorities informing them that their children's social media passwords may now have to be handed over, as part of school discipline rules.
“School authorities may require a student or his or her parent/guardian to provide a password or other related account information in order to gain access to his/her account or profile on a social networking website if school authorities have reasonable cause to believe that a student's account on a social networking site contains evidence that a student has violated a school disciplinary rule or procedure,” says the letter.
You see Illinois lawmakers and public school authorities believe that your kid can violate school disciplinary rules – cyber bullying, for instance -- even when he or she is not at school; during weekends, holidays and after-hours at any time and any place. And if their social media passwords aren’t handed over to the authorities on demand, there will be trouble – criminal charges.
The Constitution, Bill of Rights, and especially the First and Fourth Amendments don’t apply to students according to these Orwellian authorities. It’s Animal Farm at school. And no warrants are necessary; due process is not applicable.
Well, not so fast. One school district in Minnesota found out the hard way that they can’t do that when a federal judge ruled that it’s policy violated a 12-year old student’s fundamental constitutional rights.
As it happened, the kid went on Facebook to criticize her hall monitor: “I hate Kathy because she was mean to me,” she posted. She also wrote about “naughty things” with a boy. One of her Facebook friends ratted on her to her school, so she posted: “I want to know who the f%$# told on me.”
The next thing she knew school authorities and the police paid her an unfriendly visit. They took her to an office, grilled her relentlessly, and badgered her until she gave them all her email and social media account passwords. Armed with the passwords, they rummaged through her Facebook account and found the “naughty” discussion she had with the boy.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled on a preliminary basis that the school appears to have violated the girl’s free speech and privacy rights. “For more than forty years, the United States courts have recognized that students do not check their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door … The movement of student speech to the internet poses some new challenges, but that transition has not abrogated the clearly established general principles which have governed schools for decades,” he wrote.
Following this ruling, the school district shelled out $70,000 of the taxpayer’s money to settle the case.
Maybe Animal Farm doesn’t rule at school after all.