Is it OK for me to secretly record a coach’s halftime speech?

A Texas Court of Appeals has held that the surreptitious audio recording of a coach’s remarks to his players in the locker room is not an illegal act of “wiretapping.” Nor does it infringe on the coach’s right of privacy.  But the court’s ruling goes beyond the locker room, right into the classroom as well. Here is the Key Quote:

From the preceding authority, we can extrapolate that society is not willing to recognize that a public school educator—whether a teacher or a coach—has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her instructional communications and activities, regardless of where they occur, because they are always subject to public dissemination and generally exposed to the public view.

Thus a student who secretly records a teacher in the classroom, according to this opinion, is not infringing on the teacher’s rights.

This came up in a case from Argyle ISD, where there were concerns about the girls’ basketball coach.  The daughter of a school board member in Argyle taped an iPhone to a locker in the locker room and recorded some of the coach’s remarks at halftime and after the game. The recording was later distributed to other members of the school board as they considered the coach’s probationary contract.  The Argyle superintendent, however, turned the recordings over to the police, and the board member was charged with illegal wiretapping by “procuring her daughter” to record the speeches. The board member was tried, found guilty and sentenced to five years’ confinement, probated for three years, plus a $1,000 fine.

The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction. In so doing, the court relied on its conclusion that the coach had no “reasonable expectation that his intercepted communication was private.”

Does this mean that kids are free to secretly record the teacher in the classroom?  No. It means that such action would not violate the teacher’s right to privacy or amount to a criminal act of wiretapping—if it is only the teacher who is recorded.  But recording in a classroom will rarely involve just the teacher—there are other students involved, and presumably their “reasonable expectation of privacy” is more expansive than the teacher’s. Moreover, schools can adopt policies and rules about recording, including a prohibition of any secret recording.

We noted via a bit of Internet research that the board member is no longer on the board, the coach is now the girls’ A.D., and the team won the state championship last year.  So I guess that probationary contract got renewed.

The case is Long v. State of Texas, decided by the Court of Appeals in El Paso, Texas on June 30, 2015.  We found it at 2015 WL 3984950.