Technology in the classroom raises questions over wiretapping

With the rise of social media use in the classroom, students and teachers alike have started to wonder when students are allowed to film in class. After a South Fayette High School student recorded verbal threats made against him in the classroom, he was charged with wiretapping for filming without the consent of his classmates, as reported by Pittsburgh Action News in 2014.

The legality of the filming brings us to a bigger problem: When and what can students film in their classrooms?

The federal “one-party consent law” allows for recording conversations if one party in the filming has given prior consent; however, numerous states have enforced their own laws.

The California Educational Code states that “the use any electronic listening or recording device in any classroom without the prior consent of the instructor is prohibited…any student violating this section shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.”

Many other states have enacted two-party consent laws, though the Daily Breeze notes that different teachers may also have their own policies.

“I don’t have a formal policy,” Carmel High English teacher Pat Robel says. “I think it’s appropriate for a student to clearly ask if they’re allowed…if it was a discussion, I think it’s important that students get the permission of all participating.”

In fact, CHS issues a consent form to parents to ensure their child is allowed to appear in school photography. With this in mind, it’s important for students to ask the permission of any other student captured while filming to ensure they have legal permission before posting any recordings.

Communications-media-lawyers.com, a website that describes legal requirements for filming on school campuses, notes that “states and municipalities have the right to make their own laws regarding issues such as photographing children.”

Though teachers expressed different views, most would agree that students should get consent before filming their teachers.

“I’ve never really had an objection to students filming,” AP Government and Politics teacher Bill Schrier says. “I totally understand the value of it. My only objection to it would be if it changed the way I teach.”

Schrier notes that students could film without permission to use the photos to broadcast teachers in a negative way on social media; however, other teachers note that recordings can be positive.

“If we’re doing something in the classroom I know people may want to record it,” Biology teacher Kevin Buran says. “If we’re listening to a song or something like that at lunch, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Some CHS students note that filming in the classroom may lead to students adding them to their social media accounts without permission.

“Usually if it’s of a teacher it’s just zooming in on their faces,” freshman Mac Keller says, “or if we’re joking in class together.”

Keller notes that she shares recordings on her Instagram or other social media; however, there’s been more than one instance that has made the intricacies of this law less clear than before.

Joshua Brown of photographyisnotacrime.com reports a case in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where a student recorded the conversation had between him and the school’s assistant principal after specifically being told not to.

“I set the rules and regulations for when you can and can’t use your cellphone.” assistant principal Stephen Hall says.

The Ocala Starbanner reported in 2010 that a mother in Ocala, Florida, discovered that her 7-year-old daughter may have a developmental issue. Upon listening to the recording at home, it was discovered that the teacher had referred to her daughter as “a hippo” and “a beached whale sleeping.”

Despite these findings, the issue was whether or not the recording was considered to be legal. According to the Digital Media Law Project, the Florida “two-party consent” wiretapping law considers filming without consent to be a federal crime and can warrant up to five years in prison.

Ultimately, the rules for whether a student can or can’t record their teachers is up to the state law in California with the two-party consent law in place.

-Kylie Yeatman