Schools may discipline students who affect the right to privacy when they use social networks

DECISION T-240 / 2018

According to the Constitutional Court, the right to education is not violated when a school expels a student if the case of the student who misused the social networks was previously handled and discussed by the Community Committee. Likewise, the Court´s ruling stated that the disciplinary process must be carried out using the official language of Colombia.The Constitutional Court pointed out that “people who use social networks may get involved in situations that were originally unexpected and may also involve effects on people´s dignity when they affect the private sphere.”

In the case in question, the intimate photos of a minor were posted by a student. The Community Committee heard the student and then this student was expelled from school.The Constitutional Court warns that beyond this concrete case, schools, within the scope of their autonomy, may apply the behavior manual when the students affect the dignity of another student with digital media, guaranteeing, in all cases, the right to due process. “An intimate photo shared in a chat, for instance, can have effects far beyond what those involved originally wanted or intended.”

Communication between teachers and parents is key to preventing the effects on the minor´s dignity. “It is important to have a collaborative work between the institutions and the parents to warn students about the potential risks involved in the misuse of the information and communication technologies.” The Court considered that in this case the minor was guaranteed the right to due process, education and free development of personality because, as the judgement pointed out, “the exercise of freedom finds inviolable limits related to the respect for the rights of others.”

Finally, the Constitutional Court invited Community Committee of the school which handled this case to hold a day of reflection containing a gender perspective that address issues on the duty to respect the privacy of individuals, how to use social networks and the students´ rights and duties.

The Constitutional Court also specified that the right to due process includes to carry out the process in the official language of Colombia, in accordance with Article 10 of the Colombian Constitution. However, schools who are allowed to teach in other languages, may exceptionally carry out the disciplinary process in the language authorized, in those cases where the people responsible for this process do not speak the official language and as long as the institution may guarantee the simultaneous translation of this process, in order to ensure the pedagogical component in the disciplinary measures and, therefore, the participation of parents.