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ACLU settles suit over student's online comments

Thursday - 3/27/2014, 12:14pm  ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- A school district and a girl represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota have settled a lawsuit that claimed school officials violated the student's constitutional rights by viewing her Facebook and email accounts without permission.

The Minnewaska School District has agreed to pay $70,000 to settle the 2012 case involving former Minnewaska Area Middle School sixth-grader, Riley Stratton, now 15 years old.

According to the lawsuit, Stratton was given detention after posting disparaging comments about a teacher's aide on her Facebook page, even though she was at home and not using school computers. The ACLU also said administrators viewed her online conversations with a boy because of a complaint the two were using computers to talk about sex.

"It was believed the parent had given permission to look at her cellphone," Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt said Tuesday. But Schmidt said the district did not have a signed consent from the parent. That is now a policy requirement, he said.

Stratton said she is happy the case is over and that the school has changed its rules. She said the experience was embarrassing and hard to go through, but that schools elsewhere will hear about the case and will not punish other students the way she was disciplined.

Stratton fell behind on schoolwork because she was too distraught and embarrassed to attend school, according to the lawsuit, which 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.

Schmidt said the fact that the posting occurred at home was a factor in settling the case.

"There's lots of questions about whether schools should discipline kids for things that happen out of school," he said.

The $70,000 settlement will be divided between the Strattons, for damages, and the ACLU of Minnesota.


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