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Student: My principal made me delete Facebook posts

Recently a 13-year-old girl was marched to her school's principal's office, told to log into Facebook, forced to watch as her principal read through her posts, and then ordered to delete a series of comments. The student complied with all those demands, but as a result of that encounter, she and two of her classmates have been suspended.The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the girl, Ale

Recently a 13-year-old girl was marched to her school's principal's office, told to log into Facebook, forced to watch as her principal read through her posts, and then ordered to delete a series of comments. The student complied with all those demands, but as a result of that encounter, she and two of her classmates have been suspended.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the girl, Alejandra Sosa, and two other students at Chapel Hill Middle School are giving their parents quite a headache right now. The students are facing suspension, potential banishment to a school for children with behavior problems, or other similarly harsh punishments.

The reason? The kids posted several comments on Facebook in which they called a teacher who'd upset them a rapist and a pedophile while suggesting that he had bi-polar disorder.

Sosa was called into the principal's office once the school's administrators were made aware of the existence of those comments — and the replies other students posted to them.

While neither Sosa's parents, nor the parents of the other children involved, are claiming that what their children did is appropriate, they are accusing the school of violating their kids' privacy.

Chapel Hill staff didn't remark on that particular aspect of the situation, and instead "referred a reporter to a portion of the school code that the children are accused of violating. It's a "level one" offense, the worst possible: "Falsifying, misrepresenting, omitting, or erroneously reporting" allegations of inappropriate behavior by a school employee toward a student."

And, whether there was a privacy violation or not, that part of the school code could determine how this entire mess is resolved: 

The case could hinge on the word "reporting" in the school's code. Comments on Facebook are not considered to be private, according to one legal expert. The courts consider comments posted online to be published and therefore public, said Gerry Weber, an adjunct professor of civil rights at Georgia State University. Comments online are subject to the same libel laws that apply to newspapers and other media, he said.

But he said online comments are also protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and that school systems cannot punish students for off-campus speech unless it causes a "disruption" on campus. They can't sanction speech merely because they find it "distasteful," said Weber, a former legal director of the ACLU in Georgia. He also said that disparaging comments made by kids online could be construed in court as "hyperbole" rather than libel.

According to the parents of the suspended children, they have hired a lawyer to represent their children during an upcoming tribunal which will decide the potential expulsions — and they intend to keep appealing as often as they can and need to in order to keep their kids from being shipped off to a school for troubled children.

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Rosa Golijan writes about tech here and there. She's a bit obsessed with Twitter and loves to be liked on Facebook.