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Let's say a school district in the United States decides to install surveillance cameras (possibly with audio) in classrooms, but only in the classrooms of specific teachers. Gen Ed teachers might be exempt, for example (likely due to cost) but teachers with special needs students would be under 40 hour a week watch. Is there a basis here to complain based on unequal treatment? The argument is always made that this is for the protection of the teacher (and the classroom assistants) as well as the students, but this is largely invalidated by the significant gaps of time in which accusations could still be made (art, music, library, inclusion) and the fact related services (speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy) working with the same students are not being subjected to this level of scrutiny. Is it legal to hold one set of teachers to one extreme standard of oversight, but not another?

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I don't see any law that this would violate.

The argument that you seem to be making is on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause, but I don't think it would provide that much help in these circumstances. There are different ways to test a government law or policy for equal protection, and some of them are tougher than others. Laws that distinguish based on race, religion, and national origin for instance, are very hard to justify, laws that distinguish based on sex are not quite as hard to justify, while laws based on almost everything else are pretty easy to justify.

Different treatment based on what a teacher teaches would fall into that last category, and they would be analyzed using the "rational basis" test. To defeat the policy, a plaintiff would have to show:

  1. That the policy is not supported by any legitimate government interest; or
  2. That the policy bears no "rational relationship" to such an interest.

Again, the burden is on the plaintiff -- not the district -- to prove that the policy is improper. Even if the district had such bad lawyers that it couldn't think of a way to satisfy this test, the judge would be free to save them by coming up with a legitimate interest and rational relationship that the district hadn't offered. And as long as there's a legitimate interest implicated, it would be mostly irrelevant if the policy doesn't fully get the job done, or even if it is on some occasions counterproductive.

So apply that here:

  1. Is protecting teachers and students a legitimate governmental interest? Yes. Safety in general is within the government's authority, and the district's CBA probably explicitly requires it to ensure a safe working environment.
  2. Do cameras bear some rational relationship to that interest? Yes. If a school district only has so many cameras to go around, it is not irrational to decide to ensure that it keeps a closer watch on a population that is more susceptible to abuse or injury than the rest of a population. To say otherwise would probably also require invalidation of laws or regulations that require smaller class sizes or additional staff in special-education classrooms.

So I don't think this would be an Equal Protection violation. Still, round-the-clock surveillance seems like it would fairly be categorized as a "working condition" that would be subject to a collective-bargaining agreement. If that's the case, the district may have less freedom to unilaterally impose these rules.

The use of audio recording might also be a problem. Ohio law requires at least one party to a conversation to consent to having it recorded, but I'm not sure what the parameters of "consent" are in this context. Some courts have interpreted consent broadly, requiring only that a party to the conversation continue talking despite being aware of the recording; if that's the case, you'd probably be out of luck. But if a court expects actual consent, the audio recordings would probably be illegal.

  • @bdb484- Thank you. I suppose one could argue that there are plenty of things that serve the government's interest at the expense of groups/individuals, but the "rational relationship" regarding the teachers being singled out is good to know in advance. I will be interested to see what the outcome is regarding the audio. The extreme psychological pressure these already over-worked teachers face definitely falls under "working condition", but no union would back such a small portion of the teaching population. I guess the best answer is to get out of education. Reason #55,901. – atomickiwi Jun 15 '18 at 22:27

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