Record A Teacher Bullying A Student? That's A Suspension

from the arbitrary-privacy-expectations dept

Is a public school classroom a private space? That seems to be the assertion of school administrators after an 11-year-old student recorded a teacher bullying a student.

A St. Lucie County teacher has been fired after a student used her cellphone to record a teacher bullying another student.

The Samuel Gaines Academy student, 11-year-old- Brianna Cooper, is being praised by her peers. But, she’s still facing punishment from school leaders for recording the audio illegally.

WPTV legal expert Michelle Suskauer says it is illegal in Florida to record anyone without them knowing.

Florida’s two-party consent/wiretapping law is outdated and likely unconstitutional, but for now it stands. It also provides an exception for recording oral communications where the person speaking would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

A classroom, in a public school, would seem to be a place where no one would have an expectation of privacy. Administrators certainly go to lengths to assure their students that nothing they do while at the school is afforded any sort of expectation of privacy, what with random locker/vehicle/cell phone searches and monitoring of computer use. So, why would a teacher be granted an expectation of privacy for something said in a classroom?

Well, it’s not so much Florida’s law implicated here as much as it is the district’s policy on personal devices, even though the school allegedly referred to the recording as “illegal.” According to the policy, “wireless communication devices” may not be used to record anything on school grounds.

Inappropriate use includes, but is not limited to: (1) activation, display, manipulation, or inappropriate storage during prohibited times; (2) texting, phoning, or web browsing during prohibited times; (3) taping conversations, music, or other audio at any time; (4) photography or videography of any kind; and (5) any activity that could in any manner infringe upon the rights of other individuals, including but not limited to students, teachers, and staff members.

Now, using this policy to suspend a student who exposed teacher misconduct is just pure tone-deafness, which explains the district’s decision to quickly reverse the suspension. Not only that, but this “violation” doesn’t even carry with it the penalty of suspension.

Any disruptive, harassing, or other inappropriate use of a wireless communications device while under the School Board’s jurisdiction, shall be cause for disciplinary action under this heading, including confiscation of the device as contraband and, in the event of repeated or serious misuse, loss of the privilege to possess such a device on school property or while attending a school function.

So, the suspension makes even less sense than it would otherwise, given the school’s actual policy on cell phone use — something it seems to have (briefly) ignored in favor of deterring a student from exposing staff misconduct.

But there’s still a link to Florida’s outdated wiretapping law contained in the school policies. This sentence wraps up the paragraph on inappropriate use of cell phones.

The use of a wireless communications device shall be cause for disciplinary action and/or criminal penalties if the device is used in a criminal act.

At which point, we’re back to the question of privacy expectations. Certainly, most schools are quick to cite privacy laws when dealing with the release of student information. Anything to do with minors is inherently more sensitive than that of adults. Not that privacy concerns prevent schools from being as invasive as possible when dealing with their students, requiring signatures on policies that allow administrators to search students’ devices, lockers and vehicles for nearly any reason, as well as the offering of waivers to use photos and student information in news stories and school-produced materials.

But this school also forbids the recording of anything while on campus, even with a personal cell phone, granting an expectation of privacy that doesn’t actually exist under Florida law. Public schools are public and words uttered by educators and administrators in classrooms and assemblies (any place where it’s not “one-on-one”) are very much “public” by definition. Florida’s wiretapping law shouldn’t apply. Unfortunately, school policies take precedent in situations like these, and this district has pretty much assured that the bullying that schools seem so concerned about will only be handled with hearsay, as any recording evidence to back up allegations is forbidden.

Kudos to the school for quickly realizing suspending the student was the wrong way to handle this, but the policies it forces students to follow are just going to make it harder for administrators to deal with misbehaving students and teachers.

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Comments on “Record A Teacher Bullying A Student? That's A Suspension”

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65 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

So let’s recap:

Expose corporate corruption, abuse and fraud? Get persecuted, harassed and bullied via legal system.

Expose Govt wrongdoing, corruption etc? Get persecuted, harassed etc.

Warn about a security hole exposing it to the wild or not? Get persecuted, harassed, bullied via legal system.

Expose abuse of authority/power and wrong doing in the police? Same.

Expose staff abuse of power/wrongdoings in a school? Same.

And this, gentleman, is the world we live in. Shall we start oiling the pitchforks?

Shel10 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Response to: Ninja on Apr 1st, 2015 @ 4:12am

No… I’m not a zero tolerance, or follow the rules at all costs. Just trying to explain why the school felt compelled to punish the child. What I do believe is that and 11 year old child should not be carrying a cell phone. If they are carrying a phone it should be voice only, not texting, pictures or games. And, it should be set to dial only two numbers – home, or 911.

The rules were clear. Cell phone use in the classroom by anyone was prohibited.

Also, Bullying was prohibited, and for that, the teacher was fired.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Abuse police/military authority and power? You might get a suspension.

Abuse power as a teacher? Slap on the wrist if you’re a female. Consequences vary if you’re a male.

Knowingly create a security hole, potentially exposing users to malicious folk (backdoors can be used by anyone knowing they exist)? Slap on the wrist and maybe a 10$ gift card in the company store.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Common sense approach?

Experience and anecdote suggest teachers bully students more frequently than talked about.

I would even go so far as to suggest that all those instances where the school has turned discipline over to the cops are all examples of teachers and staff bullying students.

Maybe it’s time for parents to start applying school anti-bullying policies to the teachers, at least in those schools where there is such a thing?

Nah. Too much like right.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Common sense approach?

Experience and anecdote suggest that the word “bully” has taken on a meaning that encompasses behavior that was not even close to bullying when I was a child.

Can we go back to a world when the kids that were making fun of someone were forced to eat lunch in the VP’s office for a week and then everyone went back to normal?

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Common sense approach?

As one who still remembers school pretty clearly, let me just say…

Adults these days! Why, back in my day, sonny, the worst thing that the worst of teachers did was give obscene amounts of homework. You never heard of them bullying students; that was for students to do! Bah, this whole dang country’s going to pot…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Common sense approach?

I remember a Spanish teacher ridiculing a speech impaired student who couldn’t roll r’s and another teacher who’d routinely spend several minutes yelling at students who displeased him. I’d consider both of them legit bullies based on the behavior I witnessed. I’m not saying it’s common, but it definitely happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not sure why some people think school is like a concentration camp or prison where the subjects have no freedom, no rights and must tow the line in fear of reprisals.

Oh yeah, now I remember – it is because they are being groomed to be good slaves who will serve their masters well without complaint.

Now pick up that can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

^ THIS. The educational system is designed to indoctrinate children from a very young age to be good little conformers, rewarding those that acquiesce while make things very difficult for anyone who dares to think for themselves. This is not new. It always has been this way. It was designed that way from the outset. It’s all about maintaining control of a population where there exists an extreme gap between the very wealthy few and the rest. And as the people become more restless in this inequality, the attempts to control become more severe. This is why, for instance, we now have public schools requiring students to wear uniforms to school. All sense of individual thought and expression must be quashed.

Jerry Nowell says:

Re: Re: Uniforms in school

Anon Coward makes a good case for the growing role of schools in suppressing individuality, but at least one example — the requirement that students wear uniforms — is not so clear cut. In schools that require uniforms, there is generally a greater sense of equality among the students and a measurably greater likelihood that any economically disadvantaged students will perform better. The reason was obvious once it’s brought to my attention: Clothing is one of the clearest markers of status in the lives of children (and many adults). The high status kids, marketed by designer clothing, like adults, draw deference both from their peers and the teachers. Those who dress is thrift shop, not so much. Uniforms have a valuable leveling effect.

Anonymous Coward says:

It seems that most public schools these days have hidden cameras everywhere (as well as cops, who might be wearing a camers) so it’s not exactly a private place. Even in my days in school the boys rooms were hardly private, as the toilet walls and doors were taken down, and the place regularly patrolled by teachers, in order to prevent drug use — or worse yet, homosexual sodomy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Interception of oral communications

…Florida’s two-party consent/wiretapping law is outdated and likely unconstitutional…

1) Florida is not the only area with “all party consent” laws regarding recording audio;

2) I have never heard of any case where such laws were declared unconstitutional. If the audio cannot satisfy the consent specifications the court(s) cannot admit it as evidence; likely the attached video would not be admitted either. This won’t stop private actions, such as the school here, even if mis-guided.

Jerry Nowell says:

Re: Interception of oral communications

I have no idea if this has been explored, legally, as a 1st Amendment case, but it makes sense that it might.

The recipient of a letter may do anything with its contents under the assumption that the sender has no reasonable expection of privacy. Why this same principle should not apply to the spoken word makes no sense to me. In both cases, neither party has a reasonable expection of privacy, UNLESS they solicit and obtain a commitment from the other party to treat the content as confidential. In lieu of that, the conversation or exchange of letters is simply another source of information is a world filled with sources, of knowledge. To deny a person to preserve and incorporate such knowledge is to inhibit one’s exercise of speech.

Shel10 (profile) says:

Classroom Privacy Expectation

Granted,there is no right to expect privacy in a classroom setting in a public school. What is not being considered, is that the school set in place a regulation (which applies to teachers and staff, as well as the pupils)to prohibit use of cellphones for the express purpose of minimizing the number of distractions which keeps the school from fulfilling its primary mission – making certain that students get the full benefit of an education.

Cellphone use was prohibited because it can be, and is, a significant distraction. The punishment for the student should stand. However, the actions of the student, did expose the poor behavior and teaching skills of the teacher,

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Classroom Privacy Expectation

But despite the regulation, in this case, it seems entirely justified, since the teacher was acting inappropriately.

If you substituted “teacher being a bully” with “teacher using drugs” would you still feel the student should be punished?

If so, that clearly sends the wrong message.

Shel10 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Classroom Privacy Expectation

Yes… because the student should not have been using the cellphone. The student should have gone to the front office, or to her parents, and reported the incident.

If a group of people stops an attacker from raping someone, and decides to hang the attacker, the group members can all be charged with a crime. The group after stopping the attack should hold the attacker for police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Classroom Privacy Expectation

Wow – what an interesting path you decided to go down…no one hung anyone there, Shel, so your comparison, well frankly, sucks. So again, teacher using drugs, still punish the kid?

It’s just a kid, with a cell phone, recording a teacher being an asshole.

Lemme guess…you’re one of those “zero tolerance” people who likes to avoid having to actually think about a situation before saying “Rules! We have rules, and we must follow them AT ALL COST!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Classroom Privacy Expectation

So then…zero tolerance, and follow the rules at all costs?

Let me put another way, there Shel – if the rules say “in case of fire, exit through the rear stairs” and the rear stairs happen to be blocked by fire…should the kids exit into using the stairs anyways and get burned to death because those are the rules?

It’s clear to me you don’t have a leg to stand on. The question is why it isn’t clear to you.

Shel10 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Classroom Privacy Expectation

In fact, I agree with you, the student should not have been punished.

However, three dimensional thinking requires looking at an issue from all sides. Not a matter of if it’s clear to me. I was just trying to explain why the school took action against the student.

Basic problem is that many of our public school administrators are so focused on their rules, that they don’t look beyond and make exception.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Classroom Privacy Expectation

In fact, I agree with you, the student should not have been punished.

To quote you directly:

Cellphone use was prohibited because it can be, and is, a significant distraction. The punishment for the student should stand.

Emphasis is mine – you mentioned something about my reading comprehension?

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Re: Re: Classroom Privacy Expectation

The student should have gone to the front office, or to her parents, and reported the incident.

IF the administrative staff would take the student at his/her word and IF the administrative staff would actually do something which effective to stop the bullying, then yes, that would be the logical first step.

Sadly, the probability of staff taking the student at his/her word and doing something effective – especially in this case – is likely similar to the probability of a cop being fired for using excessive force (i.e., little to none).

How do I know? Simple. The kid got disciplined for having and using a cell phone to record what the teacher was doing (and who would like to offer a wager the district will cite ‘zero tolerance’ in support of that decision?). That the district was not willing to overlook the cell phone related infraction in light of what the teacher was doing is enough to drive that point home quite well, thank you very much.

Shel10 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Classroom Privacy Expectation

I agree with your statement. Just providing an explanation of why the student was disciplined.

Fortunately, the teacher was also fired for breaking the rules. A teacher should never bully a student. It’s not a good way to gain the respect of the rest of the students in the class. And, it’s an adult telling the children that bullying is OK.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Classroom Privacy Expectation

Obviously, the student was disciplined because they did not follow the rules. In the era of zero tolerance one can not be allowed any leeway otherwise the known universe may be put in jeopardy. What’s more important, student indoctrination or laws being evenly enforced?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Classroom Privacy Expectation

The problem is that the use of the cellphone here did not violate the spirit of the rules. The teacher was bullying a student and that was causing a significant distraction in the class. This student’s use of the cellphone was not a distraction and indeed revealed a violation of a more significant protocol, namely that the teacher created a hostile learning environment. With the wording of the rule quoted, I’d say it wasn’t violated at all since it’s not an inappropriate use of such a device to reveal abuse and inappropriate teacher conduct. Your application of the rules would prevent justice in the future by making students fear acquiring undeniable evidence of wrongdoing, without which they will often not be believed by adults.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Classroom Privacy Expectation

“Cellphone use was prohibited because it can be, and is, a significant distraction. The punishment for the student should stand.”

I disagree. The use of the cellphone was not a distraction in this case, as there was a greater distraction already happening. The use of the cellphone was important in getting a bad teacher to be stopped.

To apply a rule in a “zero tolerance” way teaches everyone the wrong lessons in life. If the student followed the rule in this case, a greater wrongdoing would have gone without being addressed. The student did the right thing, and should not be punished for it.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Classroom Privacy Expectation

Cellphone use was prohibited because it can be, and is, a significant distraction.

It’s another symptom of the zero thought trend. If we give teachers the authority to decide what is and what is not a distraction, and act accordingly, a parent might get mad. Instead, just ban everything and hide behind the zero tolerance policy. No accountability required.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Classroom Privacy Expectation

a significant distraction is not grounds to eliminate a technology from a classroom, especially when said technology could be used to facilitate learning. Cell phones can be managed the way they are in theaters. Please silence them, and pay attention.

No, the reason cell phones (and tablets and digital books) are banned in classrooms is specifically to remove a means by which an abusive environment can be leaked to the people.

Of course, I might be biased, as I have personally been bullied by school faculty and was punished for even suggesting to the administration that it might have happened.

But if you want grown adults to continue to have free reign to abuse children without accountability, including, in some cases, child sexual abuse, sure. Ban those phones.

Almost Anonymous says:

Missed a big one...

Not that privacy concerns prevent schools from being as invasive as possible when dealing with their students, requiring signatures on policies that allow administrators to search students’ devices, lockers and vehicles for nearly any reason, as well as the offering of waivers to use photos and student information in news stories and school-produced materials.

You seem to have forgotten “student strip searches” in your list. Those are kind of invasive too.

Paul Alan Levy (profile) says:

Unconstitutional?

Tim, I’d like to see you address the point from Anon Coward #19: what is the theory under which a two-party consent law (California has one too) is unconstitutional? There is decision from Illinois striking down that state’s two-party consent law, but only on overbreadth grounds, because there was no exception for cases in which there is no expectation of privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Unconstitutional?

These are state laws. The telecommunications system is used for Interstate and International commerce. States have no legal jurisdiction to make laws regulating Interstate and International commerce. That is strictly a federal jurisdiction. The federal law says one party involved has to know.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Unconstitutional?

I meant how does a telecommunications law apply when there is no telecommunication at all regardless of which jurisdiction the law is in?

They are not generally telecommunications laws (if my understanding is right). They are laws that govern when you are allowed to make a recording of a conversation. That conversation could be face to face or by some other means.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Unconstitutional?

I did a little digging on this question. My starting point is here.

All-party consent laws have not been held unconstitutional in general. Illinois had a consent law that was held unconstitutional specifically because it was overly broad: it applies to all recordings, even ones performed when there was no expectation of privacy to begin with. If there is no expectation of privacy, then the state may not prohibit the recording.

BTW, only 11 states require the consent of all persons participating in the conversation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Unconstitutional?

I guess then the biggest question here is, is this a public or private school. If it’s a public school then the teacher is a public official and the school is a public place. You have every right to record what you see in public places on public property. Recording a teacher is no different than recording a police officer.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Unconstitutional?

I guess then the biggest question here is, is this a public or private school.

It doesn’t matter, really. Even if it’s a private school, there would be no reasonable expectation of privacy in a classroom. “Public” and “private” in this context means the nature of the space as it’s used, not the ownership of the real estate.

Examples:

Privately owned public restroom: reasonable expectation of privacy
Government owned public restroom: reasonable expectation of privacy
Food court of privately owned shopping mall: no reasonable expectation of privacy
Classroom in private school: no reasonable expectation of privacy

I’m oversimplifying a bit since the expectation of privacy is not as binary as I’m making out, but that’s the general idea.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Florida’s two-party consent/wiretapping law provides an exception for recording oral communications where the person speaking would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
So if I was to make a prank call to someone’s cellphone during a time I know they’re likely to neither be in their house nor at work, it’s not illegal for me to record the results?

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