According to the court’s opinion, a girl named C.L., from Argyle High School, wangled her way into the visitor’s locker room at Sanger High School before a critical girls’ basketball game. To do this, C.L. pretended to be the Argyle team manager, which she was not. Once inside the sanctum sanctorum, C.L. taped an iphone to the inside of a small locker, where it successfully recorded (audio and video) the halftime and postgame comments of the Argyle coach.
Can we just pause and reflect on the technical wizardry, not to mention the derring-do, of this young lady? I have been to numerous school board meetings where people with numerous degrees are unable to operate a simple tape recorder. I have walked away from meetings thinking we have a good recording, only to discover later that we got nuthin. But this girl slips into the locker room undetected, and sets up the iphone like a pro. It reminds me of Clemenza taping the gun to the toilet in the bathroom of the Italian restaurant for Michael Corleone.
What makes the whole situation juicier is that C.L.’s mother was a school board member in Argyle, collaborating with her daughter in a scheme designed to gather damaging information about the coach. On top of that, she was a principal in a neighboring district. Yowza!
The girl was never prosecuted, but the mother went down. She was eventually convicted of illegal interception of a conversation, i.e., wiretapping. The jury convicted her, but the Court of Appeals reversed. We reported that in the Daily Dawg in October, 2015. The appellate court reversed the conviction on the theory that the coach did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the locker room. That court reasoned that the locker room was kinda like a classroom, and a teacher should know that the classroom is not a private sphere. No expectation of privacy, no conviction.
Now, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed that decision. Thus Wendee Long, former principal of Wayside Middle School in Saginaw, and board member in Argyle ISD, is guilty as charged.
The case is 18-pages long and features 162 (THAT’S ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-TWO!!) footnotes. The bottom line is that the court held that the coach did have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the locker room, and therefore, the surreptitious recording of his remarks was illegal.
Thus comes to a close a colorful case. But one more aspect of this case deserves mention. The court strongly hinted that it would be permissible for schools to spy on teacher/student interactions, as long as certain safeguards were in place. Consider these quotes:
This is not to say that a school district, when faced with parental complaints regarding a particular teacher or coach, lacks the authority to intercept communications between school employees and students.
Given a school district’s interest in providing a safe and effective educational environment for students, a school district could certainly fashion surveillance protocols tailored to further an interest in monitoring communications between adults and students with only minimal intrusion upon existing privacy interests. And providing some form of notice to those under surveillance that such communications in otherwise restricted areas are subject to electronic interception would render any subjective expectation of privacy objectively unreasonable under the electronic eavesdropping statute.
The case is Long v. State, decided by our state’s highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, on June 28, 2017. We found it at 2017 WL 2799973.
DAWG BONE: LOOK FOR MORE SURVEILLANCE, LESS PRIVACY.
Tomorrow: We wish you a Merry Christmas!