School video that mocked student with disabilities posted on YouTube

[cross-posted

at the TechLearning blog


]

A video production teacher at Montville High School in New

Jersey had her students create a public service announcement (PSA) as a class

assignment. The students

decided to make an anti-bullying video

and assigned roles for the skit.

B.B., a junior with multiple cognitive and social disabilities, was selected to

be the victim. Other students then emptied garbage cans on his head, slapped

him, and pushed him to the ground. The video concluded with a teacher breaking

up the bullying activity and an anti-bullying message.

Sadly, the

video was then edited by some students and posted on YouTube

. The YouTube

version omitted the anti-bullying aspects of the video and only showed B.B.

being bullied. The YouTube version was viewed over 3,700 times before it was

taken down. B.B. became the subject of taunts and teasing in school, severe

enough that he missed school for a month. His mother has now sued the teacher,

principal, superintendent, and school board under the state's anti-bullying law

for failing to sufficiently protect her son after the teasing began.

This incident raises multiple issues worthy of consideration. In no

particular order, here are a few questions and thoughts...

  1. Where did the original video file reside? Presumably the editing of the

PSA was done at school since it was a video production class. What precautions,

if any, were taken regarding storage and/or possible dissemination of the PSA?

Did each student involved in creating the video get a copy?

  • Who owns the original video? The school? The students who made it? Both?
  • What rights does each party have to do with the video what it wishes?

  • Was the edited YouTube version of the video created at school? If so, the
  • school's AUP should cover the offending student's behavior. Although the

    offending student was identified, it is unclear what disciplinary action, if

    any, was taken against him/her.

  • In addition to the state law, presumably the school has an anti-bullying
  • policy. Can a minor student with multiple cognitive and social disabilities

    legally consent to "fake" bullying? Is there any argument of consent or assumption of risk

    for this situation?

  • One of the necessary elements of a defamation claim is that the
  • victim's reputation was harmed substantially enough to warrant a legal remedy.

    Is this harder to prove for a minor student than it would be for an adult,

    particularly given the rampant teasing that occurs in schools?

    There are lots of issues here, but these are the ones that initially jump out

    at me. I think B.B.'s attorney was right when he said that B.B. never should

    have been selected in the first place to be the bullying victim. That said, any

    of the students conceivably could have been teased if they were in his place.

    B.B. just appears to be a particularly sensitive student because of his

    disabilities.

    As teachers and students in schools continue to create more digital content

    as part of coursework, we will see more stories like this. The portability and

    modifiability of digital files, combined with the openness of the Internet and

    the ready availability of content creation tools, make these types of situations

    difficult to prevent. The challenge for schools will be to balance appropriate

    safety and supervision concerns with the pedagogical advantages that often

    accompany the use of digital technologies. Think about the digital content that

    is created in your school: is your organization at risk for similar

    inappropriate appropriation of content by a student or staff member?

    [thanks to Jim

    Gates at Tipline

    for pointing me to this story]

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