In a post on Reddit a mom shared a story about her son's school wanting access to his personal information. Trigger warning for bullying, self harm, and suicide. Here are resources for anyone (or anyone who knows anyone) considering self-harm. Here's her story.
My son is 15.
Today I received a phone call from the school, telling me that they are doing an investigation into a series of very serious incidents that happened last year and they would like to have the password for my son's Facebook account, also asking me to disable two-step verification if his account has it.
They also said it would really be a great help if I hand over any phones, tablets or computers that my son has had access to in the last year, removing any passcode or login restriction.
I was shocked about hearing this. I asked about the incident and I was told that they can't tell me since it doesn't directly concern my son, that they only seek this to see if there has been any mention of it in the communications that my son has had with his friends which might help them uncover some information.
I declined. Told them that I'm happy to talk to them about the incident in person if it concerns my son but other than that this is very unreasonable and really none of our business. I was told something along the lines of 'I strongly recommend you to help us.
This is a very serious issue for a few other students and to be honest with you refusal will have some consequences, I'm mostly talking about your son's future at the school in the coming school year and but also potentially legally. I really hope you cooperate for all our sake.'
I told her to send us what they want in writing. She said that she hopes we're not trying to make this difficult as 'lives are on the line here', I insisted that I want it for my records. She said they might do that.
So my question is... WTF? They can't be serious about this. My instinct is to get a lawyer if we received anything in writing but really what I'm wondering about is how far can they go in this so-called 'investigation'?
Let's say when school starts, my son takes a phone or iPad to school? Can they confiscate and look through it? Can they force him to reveal the passcode to it or force him to use his fingerprint to unlock? How do I make sure they can't just invade our privacy like that?
I went to school and asked what's going on. I did that both to confirm that the call was genuine and to see why they want to violate my son and our family's privacy on such a massive scale.
First, the call was genuine and it wasn't a scam. Second, the principal explained the situation to me. It had to do with another student who attempted suicide because of bullying during the summer. Thank goodness she is now alright (and has since moved to another school) but this was part of the school's investigation to figure out how it happened.
When I asked how is it any of my son's business, they said they've seen them hang out together and while they don't think my son was involved in the bullying himself, they'd like to read his conversations with her because she may have confined in him about the students involved in bullying.
I asked why this information wasn't obtained from the parents of that student, the answer was that they weren't willing to work with the school about it and she had left so they had no power (strange use of words in this situation) over them.
I told them to leave my son out of this witch hunt and the way they're speaking to us they sound like they're trying to bully us into helping their anti-bullying investigation which is troubling and absurd.
I told them that if they ever approach my son or try to take his phone or anything by force or threat I'm going to make a big deal out of this, talk to the superintendent and hire a lawyer.
Up until this day, they haven't said or done a thing.
I talked to my son about the girl and what happened to her, he knew her and they had some mutual friends but they weren't exactly friends and he wasn't aware of her suicide attempt. He only knew that she had left the school. He showed me their conversations and there wasn't much there except talking about movies and tv shows.
In short: they backed off after I made sure they understood that I won't take any harassment or violation of our privacy lightly.
Someone messaged me and asked me if the parents of the girl had allowed the school to share the suicide news with me. I will try talking to them to make sure. They deserve to know if the school is not respecting their privacy, it's something they seem to be good at.
'he might have known this person so we want all of this stuff now'
Yea so here's my lawyers info. Good luck with that.
OOP never clarifies wether this is a public or private/religious school. If it is the latter, then they have a lot more leeway to make crazy demands of students and parents. That doesn't make any of this ethical or anything but insane, just that they are more likely to get away with it.
(Note: all of this is based on being a teacher, not a lawyer. Get a lawyer if you want specific legal advice)
In several cases at the Supreme Court, it has been decided that students at school have less protections than citizens elsewhere do.
Notably, New Jersey v TLO states that schools have a reduced requirement (specifically, 'Reasonable suspicion'; compared to the police needing 'probable cause' or a warrant) to search a student or their on-school property (In TLO, it was a purse - but likely could be expanded to a phone or computer).
In short: no, they don't need a warrant to conduct a search. But they do need reasonable suspicion (suspicion based on specific and articulable facts taken together with rational inferences from those facts).