You could see the Minnewaska Facebook case coming from seven years away

It’s not at all surprising that so many Americans are ignorant about their civil liberties given that many of the school districts in charge of teaching them can’t grasp them, either.

The latest case of a school run amok is the Minnewaska school district in central Minnesota, which has settled a complaint for $70,000 when a 15-year-old girl faced suspension and was “asked” (a police officer was present) to hand over her password so school and law enforcement officials could investigate another online conversation she had with a student, MPR’s Tim Post reports.

“You have a 12-year old kid, and you’ve got two adults in a small room — she’s locked in there,” Chuck Samuelson of the ACLU said. “Seriously? That’s wrong.”

Seriously, there’ll be plenty of people who don’t think so, and that’s the problem. Schools have been extending their authority into the home on non-school hours. The young woman who posted on Facebook that she hated a school monitor did so from her home and during non-school hours.

“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 attorney Wallace Hilke, who helped lead Riley Stratton’s case, tells the Star Tribune.

Where would they get such an idea? From the politicians who take office while swearing an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Let’s hit the Wayback Machine. In 2007, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill on bullying that provided no guidance to school districts, requiring them to enact policies on bullying. It passed the Senate without a single moment of debate, and contained this provision:

The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use.

What kind of policy? How would it enforce off-school activities? How does this infringe of free speech protections? The Legislature couldn’t be bothered with such things, to the consternation of school districts. They had to develop a policy: any policy would do, legislators told school officials who repeatedly asked them for a little guidance.

Predictably, this is where such poor legislation led.

“Some people think schools go too far and I get that,” the school superintendent in Minnewaska tells the Star Tribune. “But we want to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental.”

Only if a school district ignores an important fact: Opinions of individuals do not by themselves constitute threats; they constitute opinions. Only threats constitute threats.

“The school’s intent wasn’t to be mean or bully this student, but to really remedy someone getting off track a little,” he said.

The school district’s policies have been changed in the wake of this incident. “The new rules say electronic records and passwords created off-campus can only be searched if there’s a reasonable suspicion they will uncover violations of school rules,” according to the Star Tribune.

The down side of the settlement, in which the school district admits no fault, is that a court doesn’t get the chance to review what remains an important constitutional issue.