Jennifer Mendoza of Tomball doesn't mind that faculty at Klein ISD confiscated her daughter's cell phone for using it during school, but she cares a great deal that school officials searched through the phone afterward, potentially violating her daughter's civil rights.
In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month in Houston federal court, Mendoza claims that teachers at Kimmel Intermediate School "unlawfully" searched the phone and found inappropriate pictures, causing the school to discipline the eighth-grader and place her in an alternative education program designed for troublemakers that will hamper her studies and harm her academic career.
According to the lawsuit, Mendoza's daughter, Alexis, was caught showing a friend a harmless text message between classes in November. A teacher then confiscated the phone, in line with school procedure. The policy is that the school notifies a parent if a phone has been taken away and the parent has to pay $15 to get it back.
Mendoza, however, says the school went way too far.
She claims that faculty illegally searched through the phone and discovered some unseemly pictures that were attached to text messages. The school talked to other students and found out that Alexis was not showing the pictures when she was caught using the phone, but that she had shown them to friends earlier that week.
"They were inappropriate pictures," Mendoza's attorney, David Manley, tells Hair Balls. "That's all I can tell you about that."
Mendoza further claims that the school held a hearing concerning Alexis and placed her in an alternative education program for 30 days for "incorrigible behavior." The program, Mendoza claims, does not offer the advanced classes her daughter was taking and will cause her to "suffer a significant setback in her current studies and potential grade points." Additionally, Mendoza says that she and her daughter were not told about or allowed to be at the hearing to present their side.
"We're trying to get her out of the program," says Manley. "That punishment is reserved for kids convicted of a felony or selling drugs, not violating the cell phone policy."
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But it all started when the school searched through the phone.
"Accessing the text messages stored on [Mendoza's] cell phone without permission or any other legal justification, and thereafter using that information to go on a fishing expedition which ultimately led to an unfair and overly harsh punishment, constituted violations of [Mendoza's] clearly established right to be secure ... against unreasonable searches," the lawsuit sates.
In other words, says Manley, "The girl is 13 years old. No parent wants to think that their kid has these pictures on their phone, but that's a totally separate issue from searching through the phone without permission. That's just well beyond what they have the right to do."
Clay Grover, attorney for Klein ISD, says that he cannot comment on student matters. "All I can really say," Gover says, "is that we dispute the allegations made in the lawsuit and are confident that we will prevail on the merits of the case."