Fox 29 School Bullying Video is an Invasion of Privacy and Puts Minors at Risk

by Christopher Paslay

The airing of video of minors inside a classroom is a violation of Philadelphia School District policy.  It also compromises the safety of middle school children.     

Although the Philadelphia School District explicitly forbids videos of their students to be published on the internet, Fox 29 News has gone ahead and posted cellphone video clips taken by a 12-year-old middle school student inside a District classroom on their website.  

The clips, edited around the melodramatic commentary of Fox 29 News broadcaster Chris O’Connell, show several incidents of rough-housing inside a classroom in Samuel Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia.  O’Connell sets the scene at the start of the Fox 29 News Exclusive by saying, “This video is a starting look at what’s going on inside a Philadelphia school classroom, from a student’s perspective.”  He emphasis the word student’s, as if this makes the video somehow ethical, as if a 12-year-old shooting the video makes it fall into compliance with privacy laws and School District policy.

O’Connell says the video shows “violence” and “complete chaos.”  He says that in one scene, “a classroom erupts in a fight, completely out of control, while a teacher tries in vain to stop the brawl.” 

Hardly.  If you watch this clip, at 1:10 on the tape, you hear a male teacher say, “Stop horsing around.  Let’s go.”  This ten second snippet is taken out of context, with no frame of reference as to time.  It’s relatively playful and without malicious intent—similar to the stuff you’d see outside on plenty of schoolyards around the country; listen to the laughter of the students in the background.  Granted, it was taking place in a classroom, but again, we don’t have a frame a reference.  The bell may have just rung.  Even more likely, some of the students may have been playing to the camera and completely hamming it up.  In fact, to a seasoned teacher’s eye, it almost looks staged.

But O’Connell and Fox 29 want their “exclusive”.  Never mind that the School District’s Computing and Internet Acceptable Use Policy states that students “may not post personal information on the Internet about themselves or other people.”  Never mind that airing videos of minors on television and the internet puts them in harm’s way of possible child predators.  Never mind that the parents of the children in the video never signed release forms.  (How do I know this?  What parent in their right mind would sign a release form allowing their child to be shown on television and the internet in such an extremely negative light?)              

“She wants the world to see the place she’s supposed to be getting an education,”  O’Connell says in reference to the 12-year-old girl who took the illegal cellphone video inside a classroom.  This is indeed noble, but it doesn’t give her the right to violate the privacy of her peers, or the privacy and reputation of her teacher, who is clearly identifiable by his voice in the background of the video.        

If I were the School District of Philadelphia, I would not kowtow to pressure from the public and go into damage-control mode for the situation at Samuel Huey Middle School.  In fact, I would do the complete opposite: I would confront Fox 29 News for breaking privacy laws and violating the District’s explicit policy which forbids the publishing of any picture, audio, video, or school work of any District student on the internet without written parental consent. 

I would also inform the parents of all the students shown illegally in the video—especially the parents of the students who were shown in an unflattering light—that they have the right to sue the parents of the student who shot the illegal video and that they should contact a lawyer and pursue a civil suit against Fox 29 News.  (Would Fox 29 have tried this in the suburbs?)       

Before all of this, of course, I would call a meeting with the teacher whose classroom is featured in this illegal video and demand an explanation.  What was the situation, exactly?  What was the real-time context?  Was it during class, or after the bell?  Were students simply screwing around in your classroom during your preparation period?  Either way, I’d most likely take some form of disciplinary action against the teacher, and require him to undergo some kind of peer assistance/mentoring program.  The bottom line is that this kind of student behavior, regardless of the context, is completely unacceptable. 

Then I would inform the teacher that he should think about pursuing legal action against the parents of the student who shot the illegal video, and of pursing legal action against Fox 29 News.          

There’s no disputing that schools such as Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia have issues with classroom management.  Principals and teachers who are unfit to do their jobs should be removed.  However, this doesn’t give disgruntled students or the media the right to invade a person’s privacy by filming them without their consent, and then posting this film out of context on the internet.

Imagine if everyone, at school and the workplace, pulled out their cellphones and shot video of their peers and coworkers at any particular time in any particular context, without their consent, and posted it on the internet? What would happen to all of our reputations?  What kind of chaos would ensue?          

I myself would not want to live in this kind of world.   

Cellphone videos and social media are not above the law, even if the current trends dictate that they are.  Fox 29 News should do the decent thing and take down the video of the Huey Middle School minors and apologize to all those involved.

5 thoughts on “Fox 29 School Bullying Video is an Invasion of Privacy and Puts Minors at Risk

  1. Chris,

    I was with you until you advocated 204ing the teacher. Because kids are horsing around as they come into class? For a staged episode? How is that fair? Serious disciplinary action should be taken against the student who illegally videotaped the teacher and the students, then violated their civil rights and their privacy.

  2. Hey Lisa,

    Allow me to clarify: I don’t know if I’d 204 the teacher, but I would seriously address the issue. You are right–we don’t know the background of the situation or the true context, which is what makes this video and the Fox 29 News coverage so cheap and deplorable. Another thing I forgot to mention is that Fox News is MAKING MONEY from this garbage, which is a further exploitation of both children, teachers and schools.


  3. i’m sorry, but in this context i believe the child. the behavior shown on the video happens EVERY DAY, and it doesn’t matter what the context is. administration has always put the blame on the teacher. administration always says it’s the teacher’s fault, that the teacher “provoked” the behavior.

    obviously the inquirer’s sanctioned report on violence in the psd did not open up eyes. taxpayers fight for transparency, it doesn’t get more transparent than this. if there is any suing to be done, i would suggest that every parent who’s child was either a victim of this violence, or a victim of being held hostage by the behavior of their fellow classmates, so that their child’s education is severely hindered because of the behavior, start a class action suit against the psd.

    as a teacher, i would not be afraid of having cameras in the classroom. i have no problem being observed every day. i’m tired of waiting 60-90 days for something to be done, only to have the end of the school year arrive, and the csap process is restarted for another year.

    put cameras in the classroom, have the psd hire someone whose job is to sit at the school and monitor the behavior that goes on so that there is no problem with ‘context’, review the video and TAKE ACTION. as a teacher i have no problem with being filmed on a daily basis. i would greatly appreciate visual proof of what happens in the classroom.

    i never believe that it is the child’s fault for acting out violently, but it is not the teachers fault either. there is no “blame”. the problem is the lack of services that children who are behavioral problems receive and that the psd loves to give platitudes and hire safety directors to make the public think that something is being done. it’s not.

  4. Chris…

    I believe the only point you make here that is substantial is the fact that the student who shot the video should have disciplinary action done against him/her. The fact that you chastise Fox29 is a bit far fetched. As a teacher in a high-needs classroom I find it dangerous for you to create dialogue that appears to want to hinder the reporting of an EPIDEMIC in our school system, violence and bullying.

    We are not talking about every day misbehaviors of middle school students being video taped and exposed. We are talking about criminal activity. Yes they are minors, and district policy forbids this behavior (I will put aside my views on “district policy” in this instance) but these individuals chose to fight, taking the right of a safe classroom environment away from every child in that room, as well as the teacher’s right as a United States citizen of being employed in an environment where they feel safe. There is a moment when, whatever the shortcomings of the teacher may be, the child or children who are committing this CRIME must be held accountable.

    Teaching, especially in this district, is hard. You know this. I encourage you to continue your blog and respect anyone that writes with the intention to create change, as you often do, but please be more cautious when you throw stones at others that are attempting to do the same as you are, just not in the manor you deem appropriate.

    Joseph Kozel

    • Hello Joseph,

      First, thank you for commenting on this topic. It is good to see others engaging in dialogue about our public schools. Interestingly, everything you say I agree with. Violent behavior and out-of-the-ordinary hostile and unruly actions ARE an epidemic in too many schools and classrooms across the city. Tragically, students are not being held accountable for their behavior (neither are parents, community, etc.). I believe, like you, that this needs to change, and that children SHOULD be responsible for their actions. Further, this inappropriate behavior, and the fact that the unruly few are compromising the rights of the many, should be reported and made public (the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning” is a great example, and we need more of this).

      However, I have a problem with the “how” and not the “what”. It is irresponsible and sets a dangerous precedent to encourage and condone the illegal recording of teachers and students inside schools. It is dangerous because the video can be taken out of context, edited for effect, etc; many times it tells only one side of a story. Plus, it is illegal, and violates the privacy of teachers and students. As I stated in my original post, imagine if teachers started recording their own students violent behavior, and making it public. Imagine if students retaliated by taping teachers, keeping a careful eye out to capture them at the most unflattering times (even baiting and setting them up). This would be an incredible distraction in the classroom. Which is why it is irresponsible for news stations like FOX 29 to use and promote this muck on TV. It is negative, and does NOTHING to solve the problem; it only encourages more of the same so students can get their “15 minutes of fame”.

      Let’s report on the epidemic of violent and unruly behavior in the classroom, but let’s do it in a professional, classy way, staying above the tabloid-like fray.

      Thank again for writing.

      Chris Paslay

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s