FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – A Virginia teen is making his assistant school principal look like a fool for threatening to suspend him for five days for recording their conversation.
“If you record this conversation, or I find it online, I will give you five days out of school suspension,” Massaponax High School Assistant Principal Stephen Hall allegedly said in a recording posted by PhotographyisNotaCrime.com.
“It’s my First Amendment right to video and audio record,” student Evan Stone told Hall.
“Not in this building, because I am the authority in this building,” Hall replied. “I set the rules and regulations and I can regulate when you can and can’t use your cell phone.”
Stone was sent to Hall’s office for an alleged talking violation last month, and wanted to record the conversation with the assistant principal as a record of their discussion. Hall demanded Stone put away his phone during the meeting, but the student continued to record anyway.
PINAC uploaded the audio clip to Sound Cloud Jan. 12.
“You are not helping me by telling me that my First Amendment doesn’t exist,” Stone told Hall.
“Free speech?” Hall responded.
“No, documenting public officials on public property,” Stone said.
“This isn’t a venue for that, this is private, this is a school,” Hall said.
“No, this is a public school,” Stone countered.
The assistant principal then read off the school rules on cell phones, and said Stone is actively defying those rules. He pointed out that having the phone out or on is a violation of the student code of conduct, and the phone can be confiscated by school officials. The school principal must give permission for students to turn on their phones on school grounds, he said.
“Refusing to give the phone or refusing to turn the phone off is a violation of the code of conduct,” Hall said.
“I’m not sitting here trying to take a snapshot, or … text anybody, I am legally permitted to document public officials, you,” Stone said.
“No you’re not,” Hall replied.
“Yes I am,” Stone persisted.
“No you’re not,” Hall said.
“If you don’t believe me, pull your cell phone out right now, start video taping, and watch me suspend you,” Hall said. “And then watch me make it stick.”
“I’m trying to keep you from getting in trouble,” he said. “And you are doing things that will get you in trouble, and that’s not okay.”
Hall eventually admits that the school is public property, and Stone points out that Virginia is a single party consent state, meaning he doesn’t need Hall’s permission to record. He also educated the assistant principal on the law – specifically that school rules don’t trump the U.S. Constitution, according to the news site.
Hall countered with the incorrect assertion that if police request a person to stop recording, they’ll be arrested if they don’t comply.
“PINAC would like to inform Hall that his is wrong,” the news site concluded. “Recording police in public is protected under the First Amendment, as well as video and audio recording on public school grounds.”
PINAC also cited a 2011 ACLU report that argues schools do not have the authority to circumvent students’ constitutional rights.
From the report:
Respect for the rights of students is critically important. Public schools not only have an obligation to teach their students about reading, writing and arithmetic; as the producers of tomorrow’s leaders and voters, they must also instill in our youth the civic virtues that we as a society hold dear. This is the aim of every government class in every school nationwide.
However, a school cannot teach the Constitution while brushing aside the rights established by that document. A school has an ethical, as well as a legal, obligation not only to teach this material in the classroom, but also to model these principles in every aspect of the educational environment. To do otherwise is to risk teaching our youth that the laws of our nation are not worth the paper on which they are written – niceties to be sacrificed when convenient. A school, moreover, cannot expect students to comply with its rules when school employees violate the constitutional rights of students.