04/15/2014 Jonathan Taylor

Special needs boy records his bullies, principal threatens him with felony wiretapping charges

This case out of South Fayette High School in Pennsylvania is a sterling example of why recording laws need to be relaxed in states which require the consent of all parties to record.

It’s also a stark reminder of how much education administrators hate recording devices. Recordings allow students, parents, and concerned citizens to nail schools to the wall. They prevent administrators from wiggling out of responsibilities they should have owned up to a long time ago with bureaucratic parlor tricks and deals behind closed doors.

This case is also a decent example of how, if parents of young men had discovered this site sooner, they might have averted a significant risk to themselves. This website has a resource page dedicated exclusively to recording laws and devices. Where legal matters are concerned it is intended as a rough guide, but the laws of some US states (roughly 1/4 of the total) are quite clear: consent of all parties is needed in order for a recording to be legal.

And Pennsylvania is one such state. The BlazeVocativand Trib Total Media (a local west Pennsylvania publication) wrote important reports on this story. Pulling from Vocativ:

After being regularly shoved and tripped, and nearly burned with a cigarette lighter, a tormented special-needs student in Pennsylvania decided to take matters into his own hands. He secretly recorded the abuse on his school-issued iPad, and his mother eventually submitted the evidence to the school’s principal.

But instead of punishing the teenage tyrants caught on tape, administrators decided to call the police, who threatened the 15-year-old boy with felony wiretapping, but later reduced the charge to disorderly conduct. He was found guilty on March 19.

The article from The Blaze also mentions that the administration coerced the boy into deleting the recordings. And we can’t say they did this to save the boy and his family from a potential lawsuit despite “doing the right thing” because they were the ones who called the police on the abused boy.

How classy of them.

Oh and by the way, the school never punished the bullies. No doubt, however, that if some other pervasively bullied kid decides one day that he has had enough and decides to beat up his tormentors, or – god forbid – brings a gun to school, the administration will claim they “did everything they could” to address bullying.

It’s pervasive mentality among school staff which I witnessed when I was a schoolboy back in the 90s: they cut off all peaceful means of resolution because they just can’t be bothered, and then they wonder why shit happens. Not all of them are like that, of course. But too many are.

This isn’t the first time that developmentally disabled kids have covertly recorded bullying on school grounds, but it’s the first case where the victim has been criminally convicted for doing so. At least nine such incidents occurred across the country between 2003 and 2013, often resulting in the firing of school employees, the expulsion of students and legal settlements worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And while it shouldn’t make much of a difference, previous incidents have mostly involved parents slipping discreet spyware into their children’s pockets, rather than the child taking action.

Indeed. And here is a video of a parent from New Jersey using recording devices effectively in such a case.

The Pennsylvania student, a sophomore who remained unnamed in a report on BenSwann.com, was previously diagnosed with comprehension-delay disorder, anxiety disorder and ADHD. In his testimony, he claimed that he decided to record the incident in order to show his mother that he “wasn’t lying” about the ongoing abuse.

“I was really having things like books slammed upside my head,” he said. “I wanted it to stop. I just felt like nothing was being done.”

Sometimes recording laws do serve a purpose. But too often people – education administrators especially – hide behind privacy laws (including the Family Education Rights & Privacy Act, or FERPA) as a means of silencing those who wish to expose the abuse that goes on under their watch.

I believe a soapbox is appropriate for this occasion.

What kinds of lessons are the actions of the South Fayette High School administration teaching the kids around them? Nothing less than the importance of not trusting those in authority. The next time someone asks you “what’s wrong with kids today,” remind them of cases like this. Remind them of the “zero tolerance” attitude among adults in academia that jettisons common sense, discretion, and human decency.

Don’t ever let anyone ask “what’s wrong with kids today” (or boys today, for that matter) and get away with it. By and large, kids today are alright.

It’s the adults who are messed up.

The student and his family plan to appeal the ruling on April 29.

Jonathan Taylor
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Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan is Title IX For All's founder, editor, web designer, and database developer. Hailing from Texas, he makes a mean red beans n' rice and is always interested to learn new things.
Jonathan Taylor
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About the Author

Jonathan Taylor Jonathan is Title IX For All's founder, editor, web designer, and database developer. Hailing from Texas, he makes a mean red beans n' rice and is always interested to learn new things.

Comments (3)

  1. Yet another tell tale sign of our educators following written rule only and not common sense.

  2. Grant Gibson

    This is so sad. This kid has likely has no idea what “one-party consent law” means and he did it without his parents’ knowledge. He’s fifteen years old, but has learned a lesson today: you can’t count on fair treatment in this world. People with a better comprehension of the letter of the law will run circles around you, and the judges who are so far from the reasoned fairness of Solomon will disregard all context in pursuit of a technically correct judgement. I sincerely hope this boy still has his iPad as there is a chance that forensics can recover the videos he was persuaded to delete. Any administration this callous and unwilling to own up to their failures should be shown the door.

  3. Rob

    The kids who attacked this teenager will no doubt grow up to be typical hollow headed muscle boys. These types of guys are overgrown morons. You see these dufuses at parties & bars constantly threatening people & trying to tell people what to do. I hate them as much as I hate feminists.


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