The parents of an Everett middle school student say their daughter’s privacy was violated when she was pressured to open her Facebook page to help in a cyber-bullying investigation.
Samantha Negrete, 14, was called into the vice principal’s office at North Middle School and was told to log onto her Facebook account so he could get access to a picture that her friend had posted.
“I felt like I had to do it because if I didn’t, I was worried he would get mad at me and yell,” Negrete says.
The eighth-grader says she knew nothing about the picture. If she had, she says she would’ve told her friend not to post it. Now, that friend has been suspended, and kids at school have turned on Samantha, calling her a snitch.
“I’m getting bullied and harassed by a lot of people,” she says. “It’s hard to be at school when all this is happening.”
Her mother, Connie Becerra, was never notified by the school. She says the vice principal had told her daughter he would keep it a secret.
“But the problem is when she left the office, she was not allowed to log out of her Facebook page, and when the child in question was asked to come to the office, there was Samantha’s Facebook page. So word got out pretty quickly,” she says.
Becerra has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to look into the case. Attorney Linda Mangel says state and federal laws protect against unwarranted searches.
“Instead of needing to have probable cause, there’s a lower standard for schools and that is they have to have reasonable suspicion that school rule or a law was violated and the search they’re about to conduct will lead to evidence of that violation,” Mangel says. “It has to be very specific, individualized suspicion.”
In this case, Mangel says, the school administrator forced Samantha to open her Facebook page before trying other options, including going directly to the student who posted the photo first. “It was done in the most intrusive way possible, instead of the least intrusive way,” Mangel says.
The Everett school district has hired an outside investigator to look into the case and is reviewing its policies on when staff can get access to students’ social media accounts.
But Samantha, who is an honors student and on the wrestling, basketball and volleyball teams, says she’s too scared to go back to North Middle School. Her mom understands why.
“It’s taken a toll on her. They were investigating bullying but somehow this ended up with her being bullied, even though it had nothing to do with her,” Becerra says.
Samantha says she can no longer trust the people at school who were supposed to protect her. “All the respect and everything I had for them, it’s totally gone now,” she says.
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