Monday, January 27, 2020
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No reasonable expectation of privacy in a classroom

Two teachers, who were married and had a son at the school, used a science classroom to change clothes for after-school activities but were videotaped by secret cameras. They sued the school district for invading their privacy under the Fourth and 14th Amendments, but a judge has dismissed their case.

In US district court in Kansas, Judge Carlos Murguia ruled that because the teacher didn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public school classroom, even though he locked the door, his case against the school district should be dismissed. Here’s what Judge Marguia wrote:

While plaintiffs may have a right to be free from the government recording them in a private state of undress, plaintiffs had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the place they chose to undress—the public school classroom. Public employees can have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their place of work, however, “some government offices may be so open to fellow employees or the public that no expectation of privacy is reasonable.” In Ortega, the United States Supreme Court found that a state hospital doctor had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his desk and file cabinets, as they were not shared or accessible to anyone other than him. The Court noted, however, that “[g]iven the great variety of work environments in the public sector, the question whether an employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.”

Importantly, video surveillance in public places does not violate the Fourth Amendment as “police may record what they normally may view with the naked eye.” (quoting United States v. Taketa, (9th Cir. 1991)). In Thompson, the court found that plaintiffs had no reasonable expectation of privacy in a security personnel locker area because the area was not enclosed and was not designated for exclusive use by security personnel.

Rob Marriott was a science teacher and track and cross country coach at Bonner Springs High School in Unified School District 204 from 2007 through 2015, according to background information summarized in the ruling. His wife was also a teacher at the school. They and their son would often change in his science classroom for after-school activites after locking the door to ensure privacy.

Mr Marriott alleges that in 2009, the information technology staff at Bonner Springs installed a camera in his classroom and that administrators secretly videotaped him while he was employed as a science teacher. He said the camera was installed at the direction of the district’s superintendent and the director of secondary instruction, who each had children in Mr Marriott’s class during the 2008-09 school year. Those claims are irrelevant to the motion for dismissal the court was ruling on in this case and were not stipulated by the two defendants.

Rather, this decision was focused on Mr Marriott’s failure to show that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in a pubic school classroom.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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