For decades, Americans have debated the contours and existence of a constitutional right to privacy, and the courts are often called to balance public values with private concerns. Increasingly, these disputes have found their way through the schoolhouse door. In Pennsylvania, efforts to balance public disclosure with personal privacy have followed teachers to their homes and joined students on the school bus. For the second time in five years, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a major opinion relating to the right to privacy in Pennsylvania schools.
In early 2017, a journalist submitted a public records request to an Allentown area school district for a copy of school bus surveillance footage. The journalist wanted to review video that allegedly depicted a teacher’s rough, physical discipline of a student. While the focus of the request was upon the teacher’s behavior and the school district’s reaction, the footage also depicted the student in question—as well as other students riding on the bus. In its June 18 opinion, the court held that surveillance video of students riding on a school bus was subject to disclosure under the “Right to Know Law” (RTKL), subject to some limitations. See Easton Area School District v. Miller, No. 13 MAP 2019, (Pa. 2020). The Easton decision follows the court’s earlier decision in Pennsylvania State Education Association v. Commonwealth, Department of Community and Economic Development, 148 A.3d 142 (PA. 2016) (PSEA)—which held that school teachers enjoy a constitutional right to privacy in their home addresses, even where Pennsylvania’s open records law might suggest otherwise.
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