“There was a blatant violation of her right to privacy, her right to free speech, her right to free association, and her right to due process,” Silin said in a message to SPLC. “It’s egregious to me that a [then] 14-year-old girl is essentially told you can’t speak your mind, can’t publish anything, can’t be honest or have an open discussion with someone without someone else essentially eavesdropping.”
Mark Graber, a professor of law and government at the University of Maryland and an expert on constitutional law, agreed with the plaintiff’s attorney.
Asking for students’ Facebook passwords is akin to the police “asking to search your car without a reason,” Graber said in an interview with eSchool News. “If the school and coach wanted to look at those profiles just in case there were any instances of underage drinking, et cetera, without any reason for suspicion, that’s unconstitutional. There’s no clear and present danger.”
Thomas Hutton, a senior staff attorney for the National School Boards Association, struck a more cautious tone in discussing the case.
“The big thing here is to realize everything so far is one-sided, because we only know the plaintiff’s version. So everything is ‘allegedly’,” Hutton noted. “I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye. It states the mother tried to seek relief for her daughter from the school but doesn’t go into detail–at least, not yet, since it was just a filing.”
He added: “Another thing to consider is, was it the district’s fault? Perhaps it was one employee who went off by herself without consulting the district. Perhaps this employee didn’t understand the technology she was dealing with.”
Jackson could have a strong case, Hutton said, “if what the coach looked at and based her discipline on was indeed a private part of Facebook.” However, he added, “there is always leniency when it involves extra-curricular activities. These are optional.”
Silin said she is not aware of any clause in the district’s policy that allows administrators to punish students for social-networking content–much less, demand their passwords. The school does have a conduct code for cheerleaders, which asks them to be “role models to all,” Silin said. But that should not “extend to her private conversations with another student.”
If the court rules for Jackson, it could set a precedent that school administrators may not ask for private social-networking profile information without due cause.
If the court rules in favor of the school, however, it could open the door for school officials and teachers to demand to see any student’s social-networking profile and punish the student accordingly–both for pictures and for speech, regardless of whether the actions took place at home.
“I think this case, whether or not it even goes to court, is a big deal, because it’s the first to deal with this issue,” Hutton said. “The publicity is has received will at least cause schools and districts to look at their policies, examine them, and make sure all employees have a firm understanding of those policies.”
He concluded: “If the case does go to the plaintiff, schools will surely be especially careful. Even if it’s only a local court with no long reach, districts and students will look to this case as an example.”
Student Press Law Center
WAPT News interview with the Jacksons
Note to readers:
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