A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Smile, Teach! It's Candid Camera!

A kid in a St. Louis 'burb pulls out his cameraphone in a classroom and surreptitously takes pictures of his teacher and posts them on the net. He then gets disciplined.

You KNOW there's more to the story:

Seven grainy classroom photos of a Lafayette High School teacher posted on the Internet by a student are at the center of a federal lawsuit that tests the limits of school discipline in the cyber age.

The suit alleges that school officials violated Logan Glover's constitutional rights of free speech and free expression when they disciplined the sophomore over the incident.

But school district officials say the case is about controlling classroom behavior, not placing a lid on a student's right to communicate online.

"The taking of photographs and posting them on the Internet is not necessarily wrong," said Rockwood Superintendent Craig Larson. "It's the disruption that this caused that prompted us to act."

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. It also names the boy's father, Jerome Glover, as a plaintiff.

Mark Sableman, a prominent First Amendment attorney with the downtown firm of Thompson Coburn, filed the suit on the Glovers' behalf. He asserts that the photographs were taken during a free-time period and did not disrupt instruction.

"The Glovers believe that the school district took action against Logan because it did not like having the photos posted on (the online social network site) Facebook," Sableman stated Thursday in an e-mail. "The First Amendment and prior cases are clear that school officials do not have the right to discipline students for content they post on the Internet outside of school."

The Glovers, of Wildwood, could not be reached for comment.

Named as defendants in the suit are Lafayette Principal John Shaughnessy and two associate principals, Kirti Mehrotra and Jodi Davidson.

According to an affidavit by Shaughnessy, Glover and two classmates disrupted a language arts class on Nov. 20 when they surreptitiously took the pictures last month of teacher Jessica Hauser.

After school that day at his home, Glover posted the pictures on his private Facebook page. According to the lawsuit, he did not post captions with the photographs, or identify anyone in them.

The suit claims Glover removed the photos on Dec. 6, when school officials confronted him about them.

Glover got a three-day, out-of-school suspension and was permanently barred from Hauser's classroom.

The other boys involved each got three days of in-school suspension. They are not parties to the suit.

"My sense is that there were two disruptions," Larson said. "Taking pictures without the teacher knowing it and sending two kids up there to waste her time. And then there was a later disruption generated when kids started talking about it and showed her (Hauser) the pictures."

The photos show the teacher working at her desk with students nearby. She is handling paperwork as she speaks with two male students. In one picture, a boy gives a thumbs-up to the camera while Hauser looks away.

Hauser could not be reached for comment.

Larson said the incident upset the teacher.

"She didn't know the intent of the pictures," Larson said. "She wondered, 'Why did you do this? What are you trying to do to me by posting these images?'"

The incident highlights the emerging dilemma that the Internet poses for schools. Cyber-bullying, students posing online as teachers, and postings of students engaged in illegal behavior, including taking drugs and drinking, have forced schools to push discipline policies beyond the schoolhouse walls.

"Kids are so good with technology that it's like they're always one step ahead of teachers," said DeeAnn Aull, a spokeswoman for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association. "And sometimes that technology can be misused."

Hauser's class included a teacher from the Special School District who worked with Glover, who was in the district's Individualized Education Plan under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

According to the suit, the school does not have a substitute class that meets Glover's special needs.

Larson said the district would find a suitable class for the student.

"He's being moved at the teacher's request because she felt like her trust with him was pretty clearly violated," he said.

Peter Jay, a law professor at Washington University, said the case would hinge on whether the district properly articulated its policies regarding use of cameras.

Jay said: "Absent a clearly articulated and regularly followed school policy, my impression is that a student would have a right to take photos of a teacher in the classroom."

Does a student have the right to take photos of teachers?

Technically, our school requires phones to be turned off during the school day, but this is rarely enforced. And I know for a fact that video of my colleagues that is much the same as the above images has been posted online.

Right or wrong? You make the call. Is this a free speech issue? Before you decide, consider this, in which a teacher was accused of being a member of deviant group I shall not name because of Google (I am not going to explain that one):
NORTH BEND, Ohio -- A Web site entry created by three high school students has led to lengthy suspensions and a federal lawsuit.

The Taylor High students are accused of creating an entry in November on Facebook.com, a social networking site, that included the face and last name of a teacher. It referred to him as a "pedophile" and said he belonged to a group that supports sex between men and boys.

The teens were suspended for 10 days and will be expelled for another 80 days after the holiday break. A federal judge ruled this week that the students could remain in school for the time being.

The students said they created the entry in their homes, on their own time, and access was limited to seven people. They claim violation of free speech rights.

The students and their parents filed suit after the Three Rivers School District's school board voted last week to uphold their punishment.

"Each of the boys has written an apology to the teacher and questioned whether they exercised their best judgment," said their lawyer, Marc Mezibov. He said the school district is overstepping its bounds.

The district said there could be school disruptions and harm to teacher morale. The school's principal said that 14 teachers have asked that their photos be removed from the district's Web site since this incident.

The teacher picture on the Facebook site was copied from a district site.

The case will return to court on Dec. 28.

There have similar cases across Ohio and the country, said Scott Greenwood, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney. Courts have been ruling that students can't be punished by schools for such off-campus acts and that such suspensions violate free speech, he said.

Unbelievable. And so I guess the fact that ONLY seven kids (supposedly) could see the page (HA!) makes it all a violation of the STUDENTS' rights. I am sure no one at school ever commented or thought of it. And I am sure a written apology compensates for the damage done to this man's reputation and dignity.

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At 12/22/07, 10:36 AM, Blogger Tracy M. Custer said...

Whether the courts decide this is "out of bounds" for school discipline or not, I would think a civil suit on behalf of the teachers would hold up.

I hate to think of the harm to the parent/teacher relationship, but I can't imagine how I would feel if one of my students had done that, either.

As teachers, I know we are expected to take a lot of stuff in stride, but these students crossed a line. Yeesh!

At 12/22/07, 1:44 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

I'll have to google and see if I can track down the story, but this past summer when I was visiting my Mom in San Diego, there was a big uproar over an incident there where some boys had called the teacher over to their seats for help and as she was focusing on them, some other boys slithered a camera phone along the floor and took pictures of her crotch (she was wearing a skirt). Those photos were then emailed all over the district from kid to kid. I don't remember if they were placed on a networking site or not.

I'd like to know when these judges are going to start looking at us like people with rights as well.

At 12/22/07, 4:58 PM, Blogger kontan said...

There is not a problem with a students freedom to take pictures and post them on the 'net, as long as they are not obscene and there is knowledge that the pic has been taken. (Do I like it? Not at all.) Now, I have a serious problem with a student having the cell phone out and taking pictures during class or at school where it is a direct violation of policy. Act on the rules already in place and there should be no problem.

I think there is more to the story though.

At 12/23/07, 10:37 PM, Blogger QuakerDave said...

In our district, parents must give their permission before the teachers or anyone else uses any photographs taken in the school for any reason.

Teachers should have the same rights. No one has the right to violate anyone's privacy in any of the ways described here. Period.

In our district, kids may not carry cell phones on them or use them in school during school hour. Violators are subject to discipline. That's a place to start.

But school districts, like most public institutions, are having a lot of trouble making their policies keep up with the advance of technology. They need to think pro-actively, instead of cleaning up messes like these, and put policies that protect teachers and kids in place BEFORE these problems arise. Trouble is, most administrators end up being firefighters, because they don't want to believe that this stuff could happen in their schools.

Me? In my classroom? I'd sue the little buggers. And they'd never set foot in my classroom again.

At 12/25/07, 2:29 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

We do not enforce our own policy, and I hate hate hate hate that.

I actually had the debate teacher suggest that he put a camera in my classroom for my review session so he could take a kid who was failing my class (and had been doing so for weeks) on a debate trip. Ummmmm, no. Who know WHAT could happen once that frontier was breached. I can see it now: "Hey Ms. C., I don't want to come to class, so I'll just watch you on tape every day...." or "Ms. C, were you aware that Skippy was sleeping/making faces/shooting gang signs behind your back in 2nd period? No? Well, we have it on tape...."

People are welcome to come into my class any time. But there will be permission for taping. Or surreptitious photos.

At 12/26/07, 2:55 PM, Blogger Mister Teacher said...

Lets imagine for a second a scenario that I'm pretty sure most everyone would find reprehensible:
Imagine if a teacher took a picture of a student in his/her class, posted it on Myspace or Facebook, and then labeled it with the caption, "this poor thumb-sucker wets his bed, wears girls' underwear, and wants to rape his sister."
Is there ANY court in the world that would not immediately convict that teacher, regardless of any sort of claim of "freedom of speech??"
How is it then that these kids can drag a teacher's name through the mud -- calling him a pedophile??!? -- and then claim free speech???

At 12/27/07, 12:16 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...


As a blogger, I try very hard to make sure that my students' and coworkers' identities are protected. No one at school knows about this blog. I change details about students whose stories I mention. The most egregious stories I don't tell at all.

We all know that TEACHERS' freedom of speech is never assured.

At 12/27/07, 12:18 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12/27/07, 12:55 PM, Blogger Mrs. C said...

I think the posting of the upskirting and saying that someone is a pedophile is ABSOLUTELY wrong. That's harassment or worse, and no teacher should ever have to deal with that.

The other side to the argument is that there HAVE been cases where a teacher or administrator has done something wrong, and this was the only proof. Who else would believe a kid?

At the schools in our district there are cameras in all the hallways and common areas as well as on all busses. They've actually CLEARED my child of suspicion of wrongdoing more than once.

So I'm going to be wishy-washy and say I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. Students can be maligned in this same way as well as the teachers.

At 12/28/07, 8:03 PM, Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Accusing a teacher of being a pedophile is libelous. That's not protected free speech anywhere. The accusation, if true, costs the teacher a job and a license. Such allegations generally require district officials to investigate even when the charges are claimed to be done in jest. Can you imagine the suit if the district didn't investigate at all, and the teacher were molesting children in fact?

So it's a serious charge, and libel is probably the correct way to chase it down. In this case, I would think the insurance companies of the students' would offer to settle quickly for a million or so each. This would come out of the parents' homeowners' policies, most likely (unless the parent were an attorney or a journalist . . . I don't want to think about that).

Journalists have good rules for posting photographs and information. Kids ought to know those rules, and follow them -- to avoid putting their parents' assets at risk.

Even if the photo is not libelous, unless there is legitimate news value and it's a news publication, liability can occur without photo releases. Did the teacher sign a release? The presumption will be against the students.

These laws protect everyone's privacy. Kids ought to follow them for their own protection.

At 12/29/07, 9:42 PM, Blogger mybellringers said...

As a high school journalism adviser, I am quite the advocate for students to retain their first amendment rights. However, I also believe those rights carry an awesome responsibility. There are boundaries that the Supreme Court has set regarding the first amendment… most recently the Bong Hits for Jesus case and of course the Hazelwood case. At any rate, here is a link to the Student Press Law Center's story about this incident. That story also includes links–one of which includes the actual photographs…


At 12/30/07, 12:08 AM, Blogger matineeidol said...

Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of rules on the books to deal with the implications of new technology. I know that students aren't entitled to the same freedom of speech that adults are, and I'm OK with that, however; unless there are rules in place, it would appear that the punishment was meant to make an example instead of changing school rules to accommodate this type of infraction. There are a lot of ways in which teachers are vulnerable and the administration should spend some time anticipating that.

At 1/2/08, 8:32 PM, Blogger MommyProf said...

I teach college this year and was surprised to turn around from the board to find one of our international graduate students taking pictures of me. I was shocked enough to be speechless for a minute. This same student clips her nails in a seminar class of 10. I guess now I need to check her Facebook account...


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