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.