New Law Authorizes Audio Surveillance On School Buses and School Vehicles
On February 4, 2014, the Governor signed Act 9 of 2014, which authorizes school districts to use audio surveillance equipment to monitor school buses and school vehicles without running afoul of Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law. This legislation, which becomes effective immediately, ends the debate whether it is legally permissible for school districts, and their school bus contractors, to using video surveillance cameras with audio recording capabilities.
The debate over potential illegal wiretaps was sparked by incidents involving school districts in Allegheny and Berks Counties. In both cases, the school districts’ school bus contractors used video surveillance cameras on their school buses. The surveillance cameras recorded both video and sound; the audio recordings were alleged to constitute illegal wiretaps because they recorded school bus passengers’ conversations without their consent. In Allegheny County, the District Attorney declined to file criminal charges after the Pennsylvania State Police seized 70 video cameras from a school bus contractor. In Berks County, a class action civil lawsuit was filed against the Twin Valley SchoolDistrict and their school bus contractors, claiming that they violated the Pennsylvania wiretapping laws for similar conduct. As a result, many school districts and school bus contractors stopped using, or refused to use, the audio recording features on their school bus surveillance cameras due to fear of criminal charges or civil lawsuits.
Act 9 makes clear now that school bus surveillance cameras on school buses and school vehicles, may record video and sound without violating Pennsylvania’s criminal wiretapping statue, if a school district complies with all of these requirements:
- The district’s board of school directors adopts a policy that expressly authorizes such audio recordings on school buses and school vehicles for disciplinary or security purposes;
- The school district annually notifies its students and their parents/guardians of this policy by mailing a letter to the students’ home addresses; and
- The school district prominently posts that students may be audiotaped on each school bus or school vehicle where such audio recording occurs.
School districts that use video surveillance cameras on their school buses and school vehicles, that have audio recording capabilities, should take immediate steps to ensure their compliance with the above requirements outlined in the law. KKAL can assist you in reviewing your current policies and school bus signage to make sure that they comply with Act 9’s new requirements.
We hope you find this issue of KKAL’s Education Law Watch helpful and informative. Please understand that the Law Watch is designed to provide information about current developments and required actions. It does not constitute legal advice, and school districts should consult a lawyer knowledgeable in this area of the law prior to taking specific actions on the issues addressed.
If you have any questions regarding any education law matter, including the issues discussed in this newsletter, please do not hesitate to contact us at 717/392-1100, or email us at the following addresses:
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