Dear Legal Mailbag:
I had a student audio record a teacher in a classroom for the express purpose of getting the teacher in trouble. The student’s complaint was that the teacher was not adequately supervising an “annoying” student who repeatedly disrupts the class. The student who made the recording had come to the administration previously to complain about this teacher’s classroom management. As a result, a paraprofessional had been put in the room, and one student was removed. The remaining “annoying” student, however, was still in the classroom. The teacher feels that the rest of the class, including the student who made the secret recording, are “ganging” up on the student, who is a special education student with behavioral problems and needs extra support.
Is it legal in Connecticut for a student to record a teacher without the teacher’s knowledge or permission with the intention of getting the teacher into trouble?
There is a difference between legal and appropriate. It is inappropriate for students to take pictures or make audio or video recordings of teachers and other students without their knowledge and permission. Many student conduct codes, however, have not caught up with technology, and it may be that the code in your school does not yet have this prohibition. When such recording is a violation of the conduct code, school officials have every right to discipline students for such conduct. Even if such pictures or recordings are not yet prohibited, however, school officials may discipline students engaging in such conduct when their actions are disruptive of the educational process.
The answer to whether such conduct is legal is quite different. In Connecticut, we have an “eavesdropping” statute that protects persons’ privacy, but only to a degree. Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-187 provides that “a person is guilty of eavesdropping when he unlawfully engages in wiretapping or mechanical overhearing of a conversation.” However, the statute goes on to define “Mechanical overhearing of a conversation” as the “intentional overhearing or recording of a conversation or discussion, without the consent of at least one party thereto, by a person not present thereat, by means of any instrument, device or equipment.” In plain language, since the student making the recording was present and aware of the recording, he or she was “consenting” to the recording, and the student’s actions were not a violation of the eavesdropping statute or any other statutory prohibition.
I can tell from your letter that you are intellectually curious, and I will let you know you about a related, but different statutory prohibition. In Connecticut, it is generally illegal to record a telephone conversation unless the other party is notified that the conversation is being recorded, either directly or by a beep tone for that purpose. There are a number of exceptions to the prohibition in this statute, including emergency personnel, law enforcement personnel, recipients of threats of extortion, bodily harm or other unlawful requests or demands, or persons who receive calls that occur “repeatedly or at an extremely inconvenient hour.” However, in general, one party in Connecticut cannot secretly record a telephone conversation with another party. Connecticut General Statutes § 52-570d
In short, the student who made the secret audio recording will not be going to jail. Whether he goes to detention or gets suspended is up to you.