Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
I am new to my position as principal of a small elementary school and, frankly, I am surprised at how low energy my teachers are. It seems to me that they do the absolute minimum whenever they can. To make matters worse, they are apparently immune to my exhortations to get more involved. Despite my efforts to affect attitudinal change through modeling, direction and positive reinforcement, these teachers seem to pay little or no attention to the students they supervise in the hallways, lunchroom and on the playground.
I have tried to explain my concerns to teachers individually. However, to a person, they have claimed that I am mistaken, that they “love” the students and are delighted to pay them close attention during supervisory times. That’s nonsense, and I would like to show the teachers that their interactions with students during supervisory times are fleeting and impersonal. Accordingly, I have been looking into installing surveillance cameras in the hallways and lunchroom and even outside in the recess areas so that I can monitor teacher behavior during such times and maybe even show them what I see.
I have a discretionary account at my school and I have sufficient funds to start buying cameras and having them installed. Being new, I want to impress the superintendent with my creative energy. As I move forward with my plan, I am torn between talking with the superintendent first or just surprising him (and the teachers in my building) by telling him about the cameras after they are installed.
I am eager to feel the excitement from the superintendent that will assuredly come with the installation of cameras. Tell me please how you recommend I share this good news with the superintendent.
Big Brother Lives
If you surprise your superintendent with the news that you have had surveillance cameras installed to monitor teacher conduct, you will certainly feel his excitement. You will likely also feel the pain of his criticism. Your plan is terrible on its face, and it also raises legal questions of which you are apparently unaware.
There is a general statutory duty to notify employees when an employer engages in electronic monitoring in the workplace. Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 31-48d. Presumably, the school district already has installed security cameras around the building for safety purposes and, if so, your school district should have already posted the standard notification that such electronic monitoring is occurring. The installation of new surveillance cameras, however, could trigger new notification requirements, depending on the wording of the current notice (presuming that there are already some security cameras and that appropriate notice has been given).
Notice concerning such electronic monitoring, however, is not the only legal problem your plan creates. The Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations has followed precedents of the National Labor Relations Board to rule that routine electronic monitoring of employees is a mandatory subject of bargaining. See, e.g., City of Stamford, Decision No. 4543 (St. Bd. Lab. Rel. 2008). The theory is that such actions change the conditions of employment for the employees being monitored. As a result, it would be an unfair labor practice to install surveillance cameras to monitor employees without prior negotiation. (This situation is different from general security camera surveillance that only incidentally records employee conduct). I venture to say that your superintendent will not be eager either to defend you against an unfair labor practice charge or enter into negotiations over the implementation of your bright idea.
I am sure that you have some good ideas as a new principal. This wasn’t one of them.