The recent arrest of a Brown Middle School eighth-grader in Hillsboro sparked a right-to-privacy furor after cell phones belonging to students who recorded the teenager’s outburst were confiscated by district staff.
The unnamed 14-year-old student — who climbed to the top of the bleachers in the school gym Nov. 22 after refusing a teacher’s request to remove his hat in class — reportedly began throwing paper and cups and hurling expletives at staff while a half-dozen students captured the incident on video.
He was briefly arrested around 11 a.m. and charged with harassment and disorderly conduct before being released to his father, said Lt. Mike Rouches, spokesman for the Hillsboro Police Department. “There was no injury to the teacher or to the student” in the incident, Rouches noted. “It didn’t rise to the level of assault.”
On Monday, a group of students wearing hats protested outside the school, demanding that their classmate be allowed back on campus. District Communications Director Beth Graser would not say whether the teen had been suspended or expelled, or if he was back in school.
But over the weekend, the pupil’s brush with the law turned into a public relations firestorm after the parent of a student whose phone had been taken in the incident’s aftermath called a Portland television station to complain.
“She was concerned about the right to privacy — where her child’s rights begin and end,” said Graser. “We will review the chain of events and work with parents and students to resolve any remaining questions or concerns.”
Five or six students used their cell phones as recording devices “despite being asked [by staff] to put their phones away, disregarding behavior expectations” at Brown, said Graser. District policy states that students are allowed to have personal communication devices at school as long as their use does not disrupt the learning environment.
In this case, Graser said, Principal Koreen Barreras-Brown and her staff were concerned about the “glorification” of the arrested student’s behavior if video snippets started showing up on Facebook or other social media — while at the same time wishing to preserve the student’s dignity.
“Any kind of student discipline is a private matter,” said Graser.
She said reports that administrators had erased videos from the impounded cell phones were false. “Staff did not delete any of the original videos,” Graser said. However, a text message of the video, sent by a student who’d recorded the kerfuffle to the phone of a friend, was deleted by staff after the second student voluntarily turned over that phone.
Students complied when asked by staff for passwords to unlock their phones so their phone activity could be reviewed, she added, and none of them were disciplined.
An all-school assembly was called Tuesday, Nov. 26, “to clarify expectations [for] maintaining a safe and healthy environment at school,” Graser said. “The staff at Brown has been consistent about an ‘off and away on school grounds’ approach to cell phones.”
She was confident none of the teachers or administrators involved in the situation last week had violated district policies pertaining to personal communication devices, use of social media or search and seizure.
While they were “operating within the bounds of policy and the law,” Graser said, “I think there’s some gray in there. That’s the space we’re in now.”
She added that school board-approved policies “allow for a little more latitude with younger students” in terms of monitoring cell phone use.
“The younger age of these students comes into play,” she said, and, at times, the school “takes on a caregiving role.”