February 17, 2015

By Justino D. Petrarca and Parker R. Himes

With the adoption of the Right to Privacy in the School Setting Act, which became effective on January 1, 2014, much attention has been focused on the ability of K-12 districts to request or require students to turn over social media passwords.

The new law requires districts to publish notification to parents, either in policy manuals, student handbooks, or the like, that school officials could require a student to disclose his or her social media password when the district reasonably believes the account has evidence of the student’s violation of district policy. The new law merely adds a notification requirement alerting parents and guardians to this possibility.

As a word of caution, there rarely exists a situation where similar information could not be attained through less invasive means. Because the compulsory disclosure of the password implicates Fourth Amendment rights, the password may be compelled only where reasonably necessary.  For example, if a district believes a student’s social media account contains evidence of a violation, the school officials could have the student show them the page on the social media website, instead of requiring the student to turn over his or her password. Given the nature of social media,  it may be possible that other students could volunteer access to the suspect student’s public pages.

Districts should exhaust all reasonable alternatives before attempting to require a student to turn over the password to a social media website.  If your district does believe that requiring a student’s password is necessary, please contact an attorney at the Firm so that we can work with you to find the best way to achieve your goal.