• District sued for ‘illegal’ search of student’s cell phone

      Lawsuit returns Pennsylvania district at the center of a recent ‘sexting’ flap to the spotlight

    • Tunkhannock Area High School Principal Gregory Ellsworth illegally searched the 17-year-old’s phone in January 2009, even though she intended the racy photos to be “seen only herself and, perhaps, her long-time boyfriend,” according to the federal lawsuit.
    • “I was absolutely horrified and humiliated to learn that school officials, men in [the] DA’s office, and police had seen naked pictures of me,” said the plaintiff, now 19 and identified in court documents only by the initials N.N. She graduated in 2009.
      “Those pictures were extremely private and not meant for anyone else’s eyes. What they did is the equivalent of spying on me through my bedroom window,” she said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which is representing her.
    • The court ruled in March that prosecutors could not criminally charge a teenage girl who appeared in a photo similar to the one involved in the latest lawsuit.
      The Tunkhannock lawsuit is the second case in which a student or former student has sued his or her school for what the ACLU calls an illegal search and seizure of a cell phone. Last fall, the group filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a middle school student in Mississippi, and that case is still pending.
    • Both cases could help decide whether school officials have the right to examine a student’s cell phone or other personal technology device without probable cause.

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