Video recordings of student and teacher behavior in the classroom


In this recent story from the West Coast, a 15-year-old high-schooler named Arielle was suspended for two days after surreptitiously capturing video on her cell phone of her chaotic algebra class.  Apparently, the situation was horrible with the teacher unable to control the students, who were participating in paper-ball fights, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and acting out in other ridiculous ways.  Arielle attempted to inform administrators about the problem, but nothing seemed to change.  So, she attempted to document the madness, and this video was anonymously sent by her friend to the superintendent.  This led to the school punishment, as such videorecording violated the state education code.

This reminds me of the Requa v. Kent (2007) court case.  There, multiple students were involved in the covert recording, posting, and disseminating of video footage depicting and criticizing their teacher’s hygiene, organizational habits, and interactions.  The footage in this case was set to music and edited into a montage, and was done in a way that was crass, offensive, and mean-spirited.  The courts ruled that students *should* have the right to critique the performance and competence of their teachers – and that this right should not only be tolerated but encouraged.  However, doing so in an immature and offensive way was deemed unacceptable, and disrupted “the maintenance of a civil and respectful atmosphere toward teachers and students alike.”

I personally am disappointed with the school district’s decision in the current case.  Arielle informed administrators that her class was basically a joke, but the situation largely remained the same.   She was being denied an equal opportunity to learn in a public school funded by the government and thereby mandated to provide an environment where she and her fellow students felt safe and comfortable.  So, Arielle sought to document what was going on in an attempt to open some eyes and bring some much-needed change.

I think it is weak to blindly point at a policy and claim that privacy rights of the teacher and other students were violated through the cell phone video recording.  I think blanket disciplinary decisions when it comes to youth and technology at school are unwise, because each of these cases are highly unique in their motives, context, use of technology, and ramifications.  I hope that the suspension is overturned, because the policy was probably intended to  prevent adolescent mischief.  Arielle’s videorecording was used to blow the proverbial whistle on an out-of-control situation, and not done in an inappropriate manner.  I also think that this never would have (and never should have) happened had administrators listened to Arielle in the first place when she voiced her concerns.  I definitely messed around in some of my high school classes, but never to this extent, and never in a way that compromised everyone’s ability to learn.  This situation is unconscionable.


  1. This is a difficult case given the student's apparent genuine motives in exposing a problematic environment. That said, I think the suspension should still be applied. Think of it this way, what if a student brings a gun to school to protect him or herself from a bully? Again, the motive is justifiable (to some extent), but the behavior is still a violation of school rules and therefore subject to punishment. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to expose/deal with problems. Frankly I don't blame the student in this case for doing what she did. That said, she should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Hopefully the school environment will at least improve as a result of her intervention. On a related note, I have spoken to more than one school resource officer who has filed disorderly conduct criminal charges against students who take videos in the classroom. Students need to be aware of the potential consequences…even if it wouldn't necessarily stop them from doing certain things.

  2. Great reply, Justin. My concern is that once again we point to law or policy as fixed and unmalleable and use that to support its application. Arielle tried legitimate pathways of seeking help for the situation. They didn't work. So, she tried something unorthodox. This should provide an opportunity for the school district (or state) to amend their policies, rather than a reason for them to dig in their heels and stubbornly refuse to deal with the fact that there was a *major* preventable problem at hand. Just because it is against policy does not mean that it is wrong. What is initially perceived as wrong oftentimes leads to the change (in thinking and action) that is desperately needed. Particularly as it relates to the challenges of youth and new technology, this seems relevant.

    On another note, federal and state law has many protections in place for whistleblowers reporting misconduct or illegal activities (e.g., of their employers or of public officials). This is because we believe that such activities are essential and of great value.

    As you mentioned, this is a difficult case. I don't pretend to believe my viewpoint is without error – and I would love to hear input and varying perspectives from our readers.

  3. Sometimes one does have to just accept the consequences of their actions, especially when they know they were right in taking that action. A suspension is not a harsh punishment.She graphically showed the chaos in her class and now if administration does nothing about it, they will have to answer the resulting questions about their leadership. Their leadership is already suspect because Arielle did already try to tell them about the situation and was not listened too. They probably suspended her more out of anger for making them look bad than the actual violation. What a typical story- no one in authority wants to listen to the kids.I agree with Sameer that children who prove or attempt to prove, official misconduct( the teacher unable/ unwilling to keep order in the class) should be immune from prosecution just like other laws protect adults. Children are at the mercy of school administrators in a manner that must change. School officials have too much power. Power they don't deserve and have not earned.This may sound harsh, but as a parent,it is my opinion.

  4. Would someone please explain to me how there is an expectation of privacy as it relates to a person's behavior in a publicly funded classroom environment?

  5. As technology grows everyday new devices with are involved in the cybebullying world. Nowadays almost every little device as its own camera record or picture camera as a special tool, but most of the time is not so special. A couple of days ago I was in the super market with my mom buying all the grocery for the week and a group of 3 individuals between ages 13 and 15 caught my attention. Two males and one female were what it seems to me, stalking this young girl of approximately 14 years old. They were spying on her for about a long 20 minutes, this involved of recording the girl shopping with her mom and taking silly pictures. The attitudes of the “bullies” was a little disturbing because they were loud and they’d laugh like there was some hilarious in front of them. I knew they were harassing the girl so I walked towards the young victim and told her and her mom the situation, in that moment I didn’t know if it was the right solution but I had to put a stop. After I talked to them the mother of the young girl called security on them and they took them out of the store. They both thank me and at the end I thought I did something good but this is an example of how a little devise can develop something big. Teens tend to take embarrass pictures with their cell phones of random or people that they know and upload them in just seconds to facebook, myspace, and other social network. Digital cameras and Webcams are also another way to disturb people and their privacy to make fun of them and then post them in the world of the internet. There is an app of the iphone or ipod touch that it involves with uploading a picture and decorates them with different animating icons. For example you can upload a normal picture of an individual and insert a pig nose and pig hears and a little pig tail and that individual becomes a pig and then upload the finish work to the website, which to some people, especially young teens, is hilarious.

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