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School Can’t Record Audio in Special-Ed Classrooms

(CN) - An Illinois appeals court shot down a school district's plan to place audio-recording equipment in special-education classrooms, saying it would violate a state eavesdropping law.

Denise Plock and three other parents sued Freeport School District No. 145 to stop its plan to install the audio recorders.

The district decided to install audio-recording cameras after a teacher and aide resigned amid allegations of abusing disabled elementary students. The alleged abuse included slapping, pushing, force-feeding and verbally degrading students, and abandoning them in the time-out area and blowing whistles in their ears.

The plaintiff parents didn't object to their classrooms being videotaped, but they said any audio recording would violate their rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Illinois Eavesdropping Act.

The trial court agreed that the recordings would violate the state law.

On appeal, the school district argued that the eavesdropping law does not apply, because teaching does not constitute conversation, and the students have no expectation of privacy.

But the Second District Court of Appeals in Elgin, Ill., upheld the lower court's ruling for the parents.

"Regardless of whether the special-education classrooms at issue could be considered a public arena as the defendant contends, the Legislature has made it clear that the Act applied to communications that occur in public settings," Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok wrote.

"[T]he protection of students and teachers is not the only public policy at issue in this case," she added. "There is also the public policy of protecting the privacy rights of Illinois citizens via the guidelines set forth in the Act."

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