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Sixth-grader wins $70,000 settlement after school demanded her Facebook password

By Jenna Iacurci / Mar 24, 2014 03:22 PM EDT

Tags : riley stratton, facebook, school, social media

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  • (Photo : Flickr/melenita2012) A sixth-grader won a $70,000 settlement after her school demanded her Facebook password.

A sixth-grader won a $70,000 settlement after her school demanded her Facebook password.

The student, 15-year-old Riley Stratton, posted a comment two years ago complaining about a hall monitor, in addition to engaging in a conversation of a "sexual nature" with a classmate on the social media site, according to reports.

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At the time, Minnewaska school officials brought a nervous Stratton into a room, accompanied by a police officer, and coerced her into giving up her password - even though the cyber remarks happened off campus and after school hours.

"I was in tears," the Minnesota student told the Star Tribune Tuesday. "I was embarrassed when they made me give over my password."

The ACLU took up Stratton's case and helped her win $70,000 in damages. Minnewaska Area Schools also had to rewrite their policies to limit their "helicopter parent" abilities in monitoring students' online behavior.

"A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it's easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus," said Wallace Hilke, the Minnesota ACLU lawyer who argued Stratton's case. "They punished her for doing exactly what kids have done for 100 years - complaining to her friends about teachers and administrators."

Now schools can only access off-campus electronic records or passwords if there is reasonable suspicion that they violate school rules.

"Riley's really a hero to me, it's really quite a brave thing she's done," Hilke told CBS.

Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt did not admit any district liability in the incident, but knows the case brought to light the slippery slope of free speech via social media, especially when schools are hyperaware of cyberbullying.

"Some people think schools go too far and I get that," Schmidt told the Star Tribune. "But we want to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental."

Stratton is now being homeschooled because, she said, the dispute "was so embarrassing and I didn't want to go to any other school anymore."

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