Brianna Cooper was just 11 years old when she decided she had to stand up and defend a classmate at Samuel Gaines Academy in Fort Pierce, Florida after a St. Lucie County teacher went too far. Tired of hearing her teacher being mean to another student like the educator had done so many times before, Brianna decided to take matters into her own hands, using the only tool she had as a weapon against the woman.
Rather than stand by and watch her classmate become a victim, Brianna took a stand. Without the teacher noticing, Brianna pulled out her cellphone and began to record what many have called inappropriate comments for a teacher. “Don’t let size fool you. I will drop you,” the teacher threatened a student in the recording Brianna captured. “You don’t know me, that’s all I’m saying. So, don’t give me no look,” the unnamed educator continued.
“You’re the biggest kid in 5th grade and you’re acting like the smallest one,” the Science teacher added as she berated Brianna’s classmate. “I wonder what your mom looks like,” she said, further insulting the student. Knowing the teacher had been mean to students before and finally armed with the evidence to prove it, Brianna turned the recording over to school officials.
“The staff at Sam Gaines Academy investigated the incident involving unprofessional behavior by the teacher and took swift, appropriate action,” the St. Lucie County School District said in a statement. “The teacher was dismissed and no longer works for the school system.”
The teacher was fired, effectively ending her verbal abuse of her students. But, if Brianna Cooper thought she’d get a thank-you for stepping up against the bullying, she was greatly mistaken. Instead of being applauded for her bravery, she was summoned to the principal’s office.
There, Brianna was suspended for five days for making the recording, which the school alleged was illegal. But, according to the law, recording someone without their permission can be legal if there is not a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Florida Recording Law states: Florida makes it a crime to intercept or record a “wire, oral, or electronic communication” in Florida, unless all parties to the communication consent. Florida law makes an exception for in-person communications when the parties do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the conversation, such as when they are engaged in conversation in a public place where they might reasonably be overheard. If you are operating in Florida, you may record these kinds of in-person conversations without breaking the law. However, you should always get the consent of all parties before recording any telephone conversation and any in-person that common sense tells you is private.
Brianna’s school claimed the teacher had an expectation of privacy even in a large, public classroom. But, Brianna’s mother, Cassie Faulkner, argues that, even if that’s the case, the suspension sent the wrong message to students, discouraging them from trying to do something when they see something wrong.
“I thought I did the right thing,” a stunned Brianna said. “You think that they would actually believe a student over a teacher?” she added, explaining why she decided to record the incident. Her mom was shocked too and said Brianna was simply trying to put an end to something she felt was wrong.
Brianna’s mother fought the suspension, which was later reportedly overturned. Sadly, this case isn’t the only one of its kind, which raises some serious concerns. In a similar scenario involving the recording of abusive school staff, the Berkeley County Board of Education filed a lawsuit against a West Virginia mother.
After Amber Pack’s daughter, Adri, came home from school with bruises, the concerned mother hid a recording device in the child’s hair. It captured staff verbal abusing students in a special education classroom at Berkeley Heights Elementary in Martinsburg. Rather than receiving praise from the school for keeping students safe, like Brianna, Amber was accused of breaking the law.
The lawsuit against the mother was dropped after a large call from the public on social media, suggesting the school board needed to be replaced in the next election. The question still remains, however, why was there a lawsuit filed against the mother at all? The same can be asked about Brianna Cooper and her suspension.
In both cases, the recordings were obtained in hopes of protecting a child. But, according to the privacy and consent laws that vary by state, the legality of such actions often fall on whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. This has made the use of cameras and other recording devices to monitor the care and treatment of vulnerable citizens a hotly debated topic.
The question becomes whether there should be a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public classroom or whether evidence of abuse captured by these means should have any legal protection whatsoever. What is certain is that it’s reasonable that parents would want to know how their child is being treated in the classroom while away from their care and protection. It’s also reasonable to want evidence of abuse if it’s taking place.
So, it certainly seems unfair to punish those who catch teachers abusing their position of power. It also seems detrimental and counter-productive, as Brianna Cooper’s mother pointed out — and one can only wonder whether the schools are concerned with privacy or a lawsuit that could result from what could be captured on camera. We’ll let you decide what you think.