Is the following scenario legal

Let's say that there is a student A, who sends student B in a personal email but on school campus and on school wifi. Student A's email includes derogatory description of the principle. Let's say 10 days later, there was an unrelated riot inside of a class which the school administration for some reason believes that student A has caused the riot; student A is called up to the office and the office asks him/her questions regarding the incident.

Student A denies any knowledge but the school decides to go onto his/her school issued laptop and logs onto his/her gmail account and discovers the email and expels him/her.

Does the student in this case have the right to sue the school?

Because I believe that the freedom of speech in the USA should protect him correct? Especially because the cause of this whole incident would be unrelated and furthermore, there was an unreasonable search of his personal account?

My friends and I were talking about this scenario and have arrived to different conclusions and have argued about whether the student has the right to sue.

  • 1
    "logs onto his/her Gmail account" - personal? Or school-issued? And "riot"? How do you mean?
    – Stackstuck
    Apr 4, 2018 at 7:38
  • @Stackstuck personal account? I think that would violate right to privacy right?
    – John Rawls
    Apr 5, 2018 at 6:46
  • As far as I know, which is not very far.
    – Stackstuck
    Apr 5, 2018 at 8:50

2 Answers 2



  1. This is a public school;
  2. The e-mail did not include true threats, language inciting violence, or otherwise unprotected speech; and
  3. The expulsion is based strictly on language criticizing the principal,

it sounds like you'd have a viable First Amendment claim on your hands.

I don't think the question of whether the riot was related to the e-mail would really be relevant to the First Amendment analysis, nor would the assertion that there was an unreasonable search of the e-mail account. Both of those factors would be probably relevant to a Fourth Amendment lawsuit, though.

  • It depends upon the terms and conditions of the school used systems. For example, if the school reserves the right to unconditional access of the students school supplied laptop, then the school could audit the laptop and discover residue from a previous email. In other words, the student could have given up privacy by accepting and then using the laptop. Local school districts all have such clauses covering the use of their equipment.
    – mongo
    Jan 6, 2020 at 14:44
  • @mongo But even if the school has a right to access the information, that doesn't necessarily translate into the right to expel the student.
    – D M
    Jun 21, 2021 at 22:54
  • @D.M., it appears there are several issues at hand: 1. privacy of the email communications, 2. the ability to use the school IT infrastructure for sending mon-school emails, 3. the content of email (disparagement, incitement of riot, etc.), 4. the schools ability to legally intercept, and so on. The public schools I am familiar with (about 20) lock down their IT systems preventing access to outside mail services, and their code of conducts prohibit access to outside mail services. Furthermore the code also limits the use of school provided hardware. Free speech varies.
    – mongo
    Jun 22, 2021 at 10:50

The short answer is no, a lawsuit wouldn't do much good in any case. However, if the school accessed the students e-mail from a provider (Hotmail.com, etc) without the student/account owners explicit permission then that is a criminal act and the student should notify the police and the e-mail provider. If a police investigation bears fruit then use that as the basis of a lawsuit.

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