Board approval tricky when it can’t make secret decisions
A flaw in a proposed policy that would set rules and guidelines for school administrators to surreptitiously photograph employees or others on school district property was voted down by the board of education Monday night. The move came after the same policy was passed by the board two weeks ago, which was due for a second reading and vote.
“I’m going to recommend we not do the second reading,” Jacob Jensen, district superintendent, told the board during its regular meeting Monday night. “If we leave it as it is, it won’t work.”
At issue is a sentence in the policy that states the board of education must approve any secret video recording “before it commences.”
However, it was brought to light that by law the board is not allowed to make decisions behind closed doors. The policy, as it was written, would require a public disclosure and vote before school administration would be allowed to surreptitiously – secretly- record employees, thus giving away the secret.
“I can’t do surreptitious recording that way,” Jensen said, “It won’t work.”
Jensen suggested the board consult the school district’s attorney for guidance in re-crafting the new policy; possibly inserting language that would require the attorney, John Sedor, advise the board if and when secret video might be considered on school property. The matter would then fall under the rules of client/attorney privilege, which allows for closed-door decisions.
In an interview two weeks ago, Jensen said he believed Sedor’s involvement would probably be needed anyway if a situation developed within the district where school administrators felt there was a need to secretly take video of people on district property.
During Monday night’s meeting, Jensen suggested the language could also be changed to direct school administration to notify the board president before secretly recording within the district.
It was also suggested the language could be revised back to the language used in an original draft of the policy that only required the superintendent to notify the board such recording had occurred at its first regular meeting, after-the-fact.
Dr. Kathy Todd rejected the notion, stating she was not comfortable allowing secret video to occur within the district without board approval.
The board has been working to craft a policy regarding secret video on district property since a school custodian discovered a video camera hidden in a ceiling tile in the teacher lounge at Gilson Jr. High School. A second camera hidden inside a digital clock was later found at Valdez High School.
Teachers, administrators and district staff were outraged at the discovery of the cameras, which were placed by custodial supervisors to spy on lower-level staff. The outrage turned to disbelief when it was discovered that not only was the secret video not illegal, but there was no district policy in place addressing hidden cameras.
The policy under consideration forbids all secret audio recording within the district, but does not disallow disclosed recording of video of public events, training sessions or other approved activities.