Audio Recording in a Public School

Audio Recording in a Public School

Wiretapping - North Carolina - School Board Policy

For some very compelling reasons, we recently sent our son to school with a digital recorder and he was 'caught' with it during a search of his person (searching for a stolen dollar bill; unreasonable search as any child could have had their own dollar bill and no other adult was present during the search?). The school (in Harnett County) is punishing my son under a policy prohibiting the use of 'Wireless Communication Devices'. The device in question is neither wireless nor is it a communication device. Second, NC law allows for one party consent under current wiretapping laws. Third, the school does not allow classroom observation by parents and is very secretive, while also being a Title 1 school. As we understand it, all Title 1 schools must allow parents to observe the classrooms under the No Child Left Behind Act.

We have a meeting with the school Principal and the School Board Superintendent this coming Monday and feel that we have every right to observe our son's classroom (via recorder if necessary) and our son has the right, under NC Wiretap laws, to record all of his own conversations. (Or I do as a parent via vicarious consent.)

We have researched this and have not been able to find whether or not NC State Law supersedes School Board Policy. Other school board policies in NC state that NC and Federal Law supersede any School Board Policy. We couldn't find this specifically for Harnett County, nor could we find it within NC State Law.

Has anyone been through this or have any advice concerning this somewhat delicate situation? Our son could possibly face expulsion or suspension and we believe that the law is on our side in this matter and we just hope there's nothing we're overlooking.

Thank you from very concerned parents!

primacy of law


I think your instincts are right. The fact is that both federal and state law are superior to the laws/policies of a local school board. Technically, the school board is a creation of the state of NC and therefore its laws cannot overrule state law.

That said, the other reality can be conveyed by this story related to me by a county commission chairman. He asked the then longest serving state house speaker, Tom Murphy of Georgia what he could do. Murphy said simply that as the elected official, he could pretty much do what he wanted to do until a superior court judge said otherwise.

Traditionally we've elected 'true conservatives' ... i.e. people who want to do right and aren't likely to take risks, much less outrageous risks. Seemingly in the rise in the cost of getting elected, the people we place in these positions of authority seem less inclined to play it safe and rather go out of their way to expand their power, often by sheer edict (like your school board personnel.)

The do so in part because the cost of litigation these days is so large generally, only someone with significant resources can or will challenge even blatantly illegal actions whether it be the posting of a religious objects on government property or telling a parent or person they can't record a public meeting. Hence, these folks have discovered they can bully folks and once they get a taste of it, they like it. If they're high enough up the food chain they can employ their own attorney's to defend even the most egregious acts.

(In the county I live our county commission has spent over $1.5 million litigating a law suit against a homeowner with the specific purpose of keeping the case out of court. Recently the county lost an anti-SLAPP suit and the plaintiff's were awarded $264,000+ in legal fees under the statute ... and they're still delaying.


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