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Student Sues Pennsylvania School District After Cellphone Seized

Teenagers are notorious for failing to follow rules and for pushing boundaries. And as a Scranton-area teenager, identified only as N.N., has discovered, there can be very real consequences for what might seem like a childish lark. N.N.'s cell phone was confiscated by her teacher at school when she was caught using it, and the principal found nude photos of her on the phone. She was suspended.

N.N. alleges that her privacy was violated when the principal looked at her pictures and subsequently turned over her phone to the local police department. She has filed a lawsuit against the Tunkhannock Area School District, her principal, former district attorney George Skumanick and others. In the suit, she has requested that photographs still held by law enforcement be destroyed or relinquished, in addition to unspecified damages.

The basis for the lawsuit is invasion of privacy and unauthorized search and seizure. N.N. doesn't have a claim for malicious prosecution because, after attending a course for victims of abuse, the district attorney's office has not prosecuted her for any crime. She was, however, threatened with a felony charge for possession of child pornography.

N.N. also claims that the confiscation of her cell phone and the destruction of the pictures on it constitute a violation of her First Amendment rights. Whether or not her claims for damages will be viewed favorably by a judge or jury remains to be seen.

Interestingly, N.N. was among a number of students that were targeted by the school district in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, after administrators found out that numerous students were sexting (sending, receiving or possessing sexually explicit pictures via cellphone). The school district cracked down on the students and ordered them to participate in an education course or face prosecution.

Unlike N.N., several students and their parents refused to participate in the education course and then filed for an injunction to prevent the prosecutor from filing criminal charges against the students who did not participate in the education program. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a temporary injunction against the criminal charges while the merits of the students' claims are heard in federal district court.

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