A school board barring students’ use of cellphones to record on school property or at school-sanctioned events might at first raise a few eyebrows as it seemingly steps on First Amendment rights, but despite questions of constitutionality, it is a school board’s right to do so.
Such a matter came up this week during the Paris ISD Board of Trustees meeting when Assistant Superintendent Gary Preston presented an updated Student Code of Conduct that included the ban, per the district’s attorney’s suggestion. School districts across the state and nation have instituted such rules, often unwritten, for years, Preston said, with the intent being to protect students and the school. There have been instances in which schools have received threats of violence after video of two students fighting appeared on social media.
Trustee Jenny Wilson was appropriately concerned the school district might not have the right to tell students what they can and cannot record during times they are allowed the use of their cellphones — the school district does have a rule that student cellphones are to be turned off and out of sight during school hours except during lunch in the cafeteria. But the school district does have the right, and as Preston explained, the responsibility to set such limits.
Per the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, any photo or video maintained by the school is concerned an “educational record,” and the public does not have the right to inspect or review it. If a fight breaks out in the cafeteria and a student records it, the district can collect it and it then becomes an educational record.
Photos of students you see in this newspaper are part of that educational record, and they cannot be printed without caregiver and school district consent. One of the many forms parents fill out year after year is a media release that allows a school district to share photos and videos featuring their students. If a student records other students on school grounds or at school-sanctioned events and they do not have that permission, it’s a violation of the privacy law.
Wilson also was concerned that a student recording a fight might get in more trouble than the two students fighting — it does seem counterintuitive. Preston contended the student who shares such video on social media committed the greater offense because while the two students duking it out are mad at each other, sharing the video opens the school to greater security threats.
Punishments for violating the rule range from verbal warnings to disciplinary alternative school, and punishment is at the discretion of school administrators. Preston said leaving punishment as a range avoids boxing a principal into a specific punishment that might be excessive to the situation. That also means it will be up to parents of punished students to ensure the punishment fits the crime, and to raise concerns with their district school board if they believe otherwise.
Although the addition of the rule was unanimously approved by Paris ISD trustees, district parents should rest easier knowing there are trustees watching out for the rights of their students.