BETHLEHEM, Pa. - In an issue that brushes the United States Constitution, the Bethlehem Area School District Board of Directors approved an amendment to allow audio recordings in addition to video recordings on district school buses during Monday night's meeting.
The vote was 6-3 with President Michael Faccinetto and Directors Basilio Bonilla, Jr. and Rogelio Ortiz dissenting.
The vote came after a discussion following a note read by Bonilla from the American Civil Liberties Union, which noted that in their opinion, the document "violates the students' right to privacy and rights afforded to them" under both the United States Constitution and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Constitution.
Reading out loud an email from the ACLU, Bonilla said that an annual notification to parents that district vehicles are equipped with audio recording devices is insufficient for several reasons, primarily centered around the fact that simply telling students of it "would not produce true consent" on the part of students.
"I cannot support this measure," Bonilla said, prior to the vote. "Students' rights should not be taken away by just getting on a school bus," he said.
The email from the ACLU added that it would be reasonable for students to assume that any excessively loud comments that would stand out from what would be a regular noise, would be expected to be picked up in a recording, but in a private conversation, made in a tone of voice that would logically indicate the comments intended for the ears of one other individual, they would not.
When asked why the district was interested in employing such measures, Superintendent Joseph Roy explained the administration's rationale.
"We are aiming at bullying incidents," Roy said. "...In a case where the victim reports it and the bully denies it."
The superintendent added that the recording would not be used haphazardly and utilized only to assist in investigating those accused by another of bullying on school buses.
Director Michelle Cann said the concept that any student would enter a school bus and expect to have a private conversation was, in her estimation, ridiculous.
"I don't have a problem with this," she said, of the amendment.
However, Faccinetto thought differently.
"It just doesn't sit well with me," he said prior to the vote. "...I don't believe it's a legal issue, but I don't support it."
In other business Monday night, directors approved a resolution that urges the Pennsylvania General Assembly to establish a new funding formula for basic education.
The resolution noted that "the state's contribution in funding public education as a percentage of basic instructional expenses has declined from over 50 percent during the mid-1970s to less than 35 percent today and, on average, other states contribute 44 percent of total education funding, and Pennsylvania ranks 47th among 50 states in the amount of state subsidies allocated to support elementary and secondary education, and ranks eighth in reliance on local taxes."
The resolution continues that "the state's share of K-12 education funding decreases while the number of state and federal mandates for public schools steadily increases each year, additional burden is placed on local taxpayers each year to make up the difference to ensure that our students' education is not jeopardized."
The document alleges that "in recent years, basic education funding has been distributed without the benefit of a reliable, fair and transparent funding formula resulting in great disparities in how state education funds are distributed to school districts."
Allentown, PA 18102