School official accused of accessing student's Facebook account

EVERETT, Wash. -- There are 484 friends on Samantha Negrete's Facebook page. None of them are teachers or staff at North Middle School in Everett.

That didn't prevent one of them from allegedly accessing her private page.

"Her right to privacy was violated," said Kevin McCollum, Negrete's stepfather. "What happened is not respectful. It is a violation of her trust."

McCollum said Negrete, a standout athlete and good student at the school, came to her parents in tears last Thursday. She said she'd been called to the middle school's front office to meet with an assistant principal.

"He logged out (of his page) and said, 'Log into your Facebook page.'" said Negrete's mom, Connie Becerra. "She then said that she turned around and said, 'Why am I doing this?' and was told, 'Log into your Facebook page, please.' So, through fear, she logged into her Facebook page."

"He proceeded to sit down and go through students' pages and opened up numerous kids' Facebooks and looked through pictures and postings," Becerra said.

"Finally Sami said, 'What are you looking for?' and he said, 'I'm looking for a picture your friend had posted,'" recounted McCollum.

A student at the school was later called into the front office and suspended as a result of what administrators saw, McCollum said.

"There was no right for anybody to come in and ask her to open up her personal information to obtain any information about anybody else," added Becerra. "That's just something you cannot do."

The Everett Public School district is now investigating what happened, said Mary Waggoner, director of communications. She added that school administrators were looking for evidence of cyberbullying, which may have taken place during school hours using a cell phone. That would be a violation of district policy.

"What we do know is the bullying took place and the technicalities of how that was uncovered are part of that investigative process," Waggoner said.

When asked if a student was ordered to log in to her Facebook page as part of the district's investigation, Waggoner said, "That is part of the investigation."

The American Civil Liberties Union is also investigating, and is now working with the family to see if Negrete's civil rights and privacy were violated.

"Students' private communication is private," said Linda Mangel, with the ACLU of Washington. "Just because it's in Facebook or email or on a cell phone doesn't give schools any more right to search that than they would have to ask you to bring in your personal journal or diary from home and read it cover to cover."

The district said it could have the results of its investigation as early as Friday.

"I want kids to know they have rights," Becerra said. "the (school's) job is to keep our children safe and to give them a good education, not to bring them in and scare them."