Student Records Bullies, Gets Hauled into Court

An unnamed sophomore at South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania, was tired of being bullied every day. His mother thought he was exaggerating his reports about the treatment he received at school. So the teenager took matters into his own hands and gathered evidence by recording an incident on his school iPad. Guess who got into trouble for that.

Instead of questioning the students whose voices were recorded, school administrators threatened to charge him with felony wiretapping before eventually agreeing to reduce the charge to disorderly conduct. On Wednesday, March 19, the student, whose name we have agreed to not include in this story, was found guilty of disorderly conduct by District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet.

The student deleted the recording under orders from school administration, although his mother had already made a transcript. The alleged bullies heard on the recording were not disciplined. South Fayette Township police Lieutenant Robert Kurta defended the charge of disorderly conduct, saying the student “engaged in actions which served no legitimate purpose.” The student’s family attorney thinks that destruction of the evidence may also be a crime. The unnamed student is appealing his conviction. -via The Daily Dot

(Image credit: Tom Morris)

Update: Since the story made national news, things have changed. The charge against the student was rescinded on appeal.

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I realize that this is a legal issue of getting consent for recording voices. However, the fact that the kids who are bullying are not being punished in any way is appalling. They don't need to look at the evidence. They just need to take the bullied kid's complaints seriously. One of the reasons kids commit suicide or go and shoot up their schools is that they are bullied, sometimes for years, and they feel powerless and without allies in their struggle. Next time a news story about some kid who snapped and sprayed his classmates with a gun comes up, we can keep this sort of situation in mind. These kids need to feel they have someone who they can turn to and who will hear and believe them. This story has willful neglect of a child's needs on all sides (even the mother who was originally dismissive) written all over it. Being bullied is not just something that bothers kids who are "weak" - it has dire implications for brain development in kids. If you read the book "Social" by Matthew Lieberman, you can learn a lot about how difficult ostracism and bullying is and the toll it takes on the brain and body - a toll which is never recovered from.
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Pennsylvania is one of the twelve US states where voice recordings require consent of all parties involved. In the other 38 states, as long as one person in the conversation is aware of the recording and gives permission for it, then it is ok. There are other cases of people recording police misconduct and crimes in much more serious situations using their own device that have been charged under illegal wiretapping laws.
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