ACLU asks Everett schools to apologize to student

The American Civil Liberties Union has sent a letter to the Everett School District asking for a public apology for North Middle School student Samantha Negrete and her family.

The request follows an incident last month in which Samantha, an eighth grade student, said she was pressured to open her Facebook page by the school’s vice principal as he was investigating a complaint of cyber-bullying that involved other students.

“Our hope is to work together with the school district to find a resolution to this that allows Samantha to return to a safe and welcoming school environment,” said Linda Mangel, an ACLU attorney.

The ACLU letter was sent to Superintendent Gary Cohn on Friday.

It also asked for North Middle School students to be formally notified that Samantha’s Facebook page was involuntarily and improperly searched; for students to be trained on their rights and responsibilities in using online technology and their rights regarding school searches; and for a new school district policy outlining when school officials may access students’ online accounts.

It also called for Bryan Toutant, North Middle School’s vice principal, to be re-assigned to another school for the remainder of the school year.

The letter states that the request for Toutant’s transfer to another school was made because Samantha fears “he will seek to abuse his power and punish her for reporting his illegal search.”

The requested apology and announcement to the North Middle School students that Samantha did not willingly disclose the contents of her Facebook page were made in an effort “to dispel the idea that Samantha is to blame,” Mangel said.

One North student was suspended for a photo taken on school grounds during school hours.

Samantha is “being called a snitch, a tattletale,” Mangel said. “She’s being ostracized. She’s afraid.”

If school staff were concerned about cyber-bullying, they could have asked the alleged victim to show the vice principal what was online that upset her, Mangel said.

Jeff Russell, school board president, said earlier this week that he would talk with Cohn to see if there’s a need to change any school district policies.

On Friday afternoon, Mary Waggoner, school district spokeswoman, said neither she nor Cohn had seen a copy of the letter.

“If something was done that was inappropriate, we would always apologize,” she said.

A report on the North Middle School incident is expected next week, she said. Any decision on whether disciplinary action will be taken against staff will occur after the superintendent gets a chance to review the report, Waggoner said.

Waggoner said that Toutant has not been at North Middle School this past week because he was involved in the investigation of the Facebook incident.

“When we’re doing a review, we separate the parties involved so there’s no possibility of coercion,” she said. “He’ll be back to work on Monday.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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