October 27, 1998 98-R-1321
FROM: Judith S. Lohman, Principal Analyst
RE: Electronic Monitoring of Students in School and Student and Teacher Possession of Beepers and Cell Phones in School
You asked if there was any state or federal law barring schools from videotaping students or special education students for security reasons. You also asked whether a school board can bar use of electronic pagers and cellular telephones in school by students and teachers.
There is no state or federal law that bars a school from videotaping students on school grounds for security reasons, as long as the taping is confined to the commonly used areas of the school, such as the halls, classrooms, buses, and grounds. Although there is so specific statutory limitation on such videotaping, schools would be subject to common law privacy constraints, which would likely bar video monitoring in places where students have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as bathrooms or locker rooms. These common law limits arise from the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and have been upheld by federal and state courts, according to Alvin Wilson, an attorney with the State Department of Education. There is no difference in the standards applicable to special and regular education students.
There are two state laws that could limit video monitoring in schools. One requires employers to notify employees if they engage in electronic monitoring of those employees in the workplace (PA 98-142). Thus, a school would have to notify teachers and other employees in writing of any video monitoring encompassing staff members. Another prohibits employers from monitoring the activities of employees in any area designed for the employees' health or personal comfort or for safeguarding their personal possessions, such as a rest room, locker room, or lounge (CGS § 31-48b). Thus, to the extent that students and staff members utilize the same facilities for personal comfort, a school could not monitor those areas because it cannot monitor employees in those places.
For your further information, we enclose an excerpt from a publication by the National School Boards Association's Council of School Attorneys on the use of security cameras in schools.
CELL PHONES AND ELECTRONIC PAGERS
State law bars students from having or using electronic pagers (“beepers”) in school without specific written permission from the school principal. The principal may only grant permission if the student or his parent or guardian establishes to the principal's satisfaction a reasonable basis for having the beeper (CGS § 10-233j).
The same law also expressly allows local or regional boards of education to restrict student possession or use of cell phones in school. In deciding whether to ban cell phones, boards must consider students' and parents' special needs.
Finally, local school boards have broad control over the schools under their jurisdiction and have final control over operation of school buildings, grounds, and facilities (§10-220(a)). This authority would allow a local board to ban student cell phones from schools or limit their use even without the specific authority to do so granted in Section 10-233j. But if it wished to impose a ban on teachers' possessing cell phones in school, a board probably would have to bargain with teachers' unions on the issue because it would constitute a change in working conditions.