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Not Cool, School: Middle Schooler Sues over Facebook Search

A Minnesota middle school student has sued her school district, claiming that school staff unlawfully searched her Facebook and e-mail accounts and punished her for a Facebook posting that criticized a school employee, CNN reports.

The complaint, which the student filed with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, claims that employees at Minnewaska Area Middle School violated the student?ÇÖs First and Fourth Amendment rights.

According to the suit, the 12-year-old student felt that one of the school?ÇÖs hall monitors was picking on her, so she wrote on her own Facebook wall that she hated that person because she was mean.?á The message was not posted from school property or using any school equipment or network, according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges that school employees pressured the student to divulge her e-mail and Facebook login information, which they then used to search her accounts.?á The student was given in-school suspension and was forced to miss a class ski trip because of the posting, according to the complaint.

The Minnewaska School District has released a statement in which it denies any wrongdoing.?á According to the statement, ?Ç£[The student] participated in Facebook conversations that contributed to a disruption of the learning environment and caused some people within the school community to feel unsafe.?Ç¥

In January, the Supreme Court declined to review three cases involving students who had been punished for their off-campus use of social media.

Two of the cases originated in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the en banc court upheld the right of two students to create fake MySpace pages that mocked their principals.

However, a third case that originated in the Fourth Circuit had come out differently: the court had upheld a school?ÇÖs punishment against aWest Virginia high school student for creating and inviting classmates to a MySpace group that allegedly ridiculed a fellow student.

The Court?ÇÖs decision not to review these cases means that a split among the circuits on this issue persists, and the degree to which constitutional protections extend to students?ÇÖ off-campus use of social media remains an unsettled question.

By Nick Nelson

David Bell is a partner in the Dallas, TX office of the law firm of Haynes and Boone, LLP. He is the chair of the firmΓÇÖs Social Media Practice. He may be reached at david.bell@haynesboone.com or 214.651.5248. Follow David on Twitter or add him to your LinkedIn network.

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March 2012