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When student recorded bullies with iPad, school claimed it was felony wiretapping

Apr 14, 20145 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

A desperate teenager recorded seven minutes of being bullied during his special-ed math class, but when the school found out, officials accused him of felony wiretapping.

It’s said desperate times call for desperate measures, so a desperate teenager used his school-supplied iPad to record “proof” of students bullying him during his special education math class. Instead of stopping or punishing the bullies, Pennsylvania school administrators threatened to charge the South Fayette High School sophomore with felony wiretapping.

After reading several anti-bullying websites, the student — a minor diagnosed with ADHD, an anxiety disorder and a comprehension delay disorder — recorded the bullying to show his mother that he “wasn’t lying” about how bad it was. He said, “I was really having things like books slammed upside my head. I wanted it to stop. I just felt like nothing was being done.” The teenager said he’s been bullied all year. “I wanted some help,” he added. “This wasn’t just a one-time thing. This always happens every day in that class.”

At the very least, the math teacher saw it happening, as that is where the seven-minute long audio of the bullying was recorded. The school district even had records of the student’s mother, Shea Love, complaining about her son being bullied. Of those incidents on record with the school district, the assistant principal testified, “To be blunt, I would not classify that as bullying.” Yet Love testified that her son was repeatedly “shoved and tripped at school, and that a fellow student had even attempted to burn him with a cigarette lighter.”

In an exclusive about the case, Ben Swann reported Love’s description of the recorded audio:

As the teacher is heard attempting to help her son with a math problem, a student says, “You should pull his pants down!” Another student replies, “No, man. Imagine how bad that (c**t) smells! No one wants to smell that (t**t).” As the recording continues, the teacher instructs the classroom that they may only talk if it pertains to math. Shortly thereafter, a loud noise is heard on the recording, which her son explained was a book being slammed down next to him after a student pretended to hit him in the head with it. When the teacher yells, the student exclaims, “What? I was just trying to scare him!” A group of boys are heard laughing.

Love transcribed the audio before calling the school to complain. The high school, in turn, called the police to interrogate the boy in the principal’s office. He was required to play the audio and then delete it.  By the time Love arrived at the school, “her son was surrounded by school officials and the police officer and was visibly distraught.” The principal informed Love that her 15-year-old son “was facing felony wiretapping charges because he had made a recording in a place where there is an expectation of privacy. The officer agreed but eventually reduced the charge to disorderly conduct on the basis that the student engaged in offensive actions ‘which served no legitimate purpose.'”

The whole case smells really bad as the cop later testified that he didn’t hear the audio. The boy says the file wasn’t deleted until after the cop arrived at the school to interrogate him. The cop said the district attorney suggested a disorderly conduct charge and quoted the statute as, “Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by acts which serve no legitimate purpose.” Seems like that applies to the bullies’ actions. The boy’s attorney says that the school’s choice to delete evidence might be a crime.

District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet is quoted as stating:

“Normally, if there is – I certainly have a big problem with any kind of bullying at school. But normally, you know, I would expect a parent would let the school know about it, because it’s not tolerated. I know that, and that you guys [school administrators] would handle that, you know. To go to this extreme, you know, it was the only alternative or something like that, but you weren’t made aware of that and that was kind of what I was curious about. Because it’s not tolerated, but you need to go through – let the school handle it. And I know from experience with South Fayette School that, you know, it always is. And if there is a problem and it continues, then it is usually brought in front of me.”

School records indicate the boy was a “well-behaved student with no history of disciplinary action.” He had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place; the school’s policy for disciplining disabled students calls for the chastisement to be in accordance with the IEP positive behavior support plan. He was removed from the special education math class, but the bullies weren’t. The school’s electronic device abuse policy calls for “confiscating the device and/or disciplinary action.” Although the school’s “bullying policy pledges no retribution for reporting suspected bullying,” the school punished him with a Saturday detention. The school did nothing to punish the bullies whose voices were recorded.

The judge punished the boy by ruling he was guilty of disorderly conduct. He appealed the conviction; his next court date is April 29 in Pittsburgh.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.