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School district says staffers didn't delete students' cellphone videos

School district says staffers didn't delete students' cellphone videos »Play Video

HILLSBORO, Ore. -- After a meeting with several Hillsboro School District administrators Monday night, in light of the controversy where staff seized cellphones from students, mom Melissa Siegel still feels like the district is brushing off her concerns.

"I feel like my 13-year-old's rights were violated along with all these other students," Seigel said.

It all started on Friday, Nov. 22, when Siegel's daughter captured cellphone video of a confrontation between a student and a teacher in the R.A Middle School gym before class started. After the confrontation, Siegal said her daughter, Khloey, was confined for 45 minutes, her phone seized, and says staff looked through her private apps and text messages. Siegel said they even went so far as to delete the video of the confrontation.

"I feel frustrated with the way the school's handling it now, and it feels like they're just trying to sugarcoat everything and not actually dealing with the issues," Siegel told On Your Side Investigator Chelsea Kopta on Monday.

On Friday, Khloey and four other students used personal cellphones to record the incident.

Hillsboro District spokeswoman, Beth Graser, said staff asked students to put their phones away but said the students continued to film, which was "disregarding behavior expectations at Brown Middle School." 

Graser said staff then spoke with the students who had recorded the incident and asked to have their phones, review, and download the video they had taken. 

"That's within purview of school staff to take the phones because it's laid out in the handbook. It's laid out in policy," Graser said. "Students were asked if they were willing to share the videos so they could be retained by staff and used for the investigation."

After administration officials viewed the recordings, Graser said phones were returned. She said no disciplinary action was taken against those students.

The mother of the child involved in the confrontation told KATU her son was suspended from school for 10 days. She also said her son was arrested for assault and disorderly conduct based on the video captured by students.

Graser told KATU that parents of each of the students, whose phones were taken, were contacted and told about the incident and the search of the phones. 

"They were also encouraged to have their child delete their personal copy of the video out of consideration for a fellow student whose moment of crisis was captured and possibly escalated by the presence of the phones."

However, the spokeswoman was adamant that staff did not delete any of the original videos from students' phones. 

"I was assured that things were not deleted without students' knowledge, that protocols were followed in terms of getting in touch with all the parents to let them know what had happened and that there was conversation about the taking of the video," Graser said.

Graser did add, however, that one student who recorded the incident texted the video confrontation to a friend; the friend's phone was requested by staff and when the text came through, Graser said, it was deleted.  She said staff is talking with the student and parent about the deletion of the text.

But Siegel tells a different story.
 
"I did talk to the Assistant Principal Mrs. (Amy) Torres (on Friday) and she did tell me that they were deleting the videos," Siegel said. "She had all the phones in her possession."

Siegel said the only reason her daughter's video was not deleted was because she stepped in just in time to save Khloey's video.

"Pretty much all the phones that they took, those videos were deleted except for Khloey's," Siegel said. "I asked them if they had a court order, which they did not, so they called me back and said they would not delete her video." 

After the incident, Siegel said she read every page of the handbook and she individually marked places where she felt like the district crossed the line.

"For search and seizure of property they have to call a parent. I was not contacted. She wasn't a danger to anybody. She took a video like a lot of other 13-year-olds in the school did," Siegel continued. "I want the district to come forward and tell the truth about what happened. I think these students deserve an apology."

On Monday, the mother of the child who was suspended wanted to know if the teacher involved had been properly trained to deal with confrontations. That question was not immediately answered but following the sit down interview, KATU received this additional information from Graser:

"Our primary concern is for the safety of students and staff.  We try to de-escalate behavior and move the student to a more private space where they can calm down and talk to an administrator or counselor.  In situations where the student is not calming down, we may contact their parent and a school resource officer to assist. 

Anytime we have an incident, it provides us an opportunity to review our policies and practices to make sure there is consistency and predictability in how they are carried out.  We will certainly review the chain of events that occurred in this incident and will work with parents and students to resolve any remaining questions or concerns.

School discipline is determined in accordance with District policy (JG; also in the Standards of Student Conduct Handbook: JF/JFA-AR, pages 7-10)."

As of Monday night, Graser told KATU that Superintendent Scott had not yet had a chance to watch the entire video.  KATU did ask to for an interview with both Brown's principal and the superintendent but Graser said neither was available. Graser did not immediately say if the district planned to investigate.

Tuesday, there will be a follow-up assembly with all students to clarify the expectations around maintaining a safe and healthy environment at school.

District Policy - Search and Seizure:
"The Board seeks to assure a climate in the schools which is appropriate for institutions of learning and which assures the safety and welfare of the staff and students. To assist in attaining these goals, building administrator(s) may search the person, personal property (including school lockers, desks or other storage areas), and student vehicles, and seize property deemed injurious or detrimental to the safety and welfare of the students and staff if the building administrator(s) have reason to believe that an illegal act or a violation of school rules and regulations is being committed or is about to be committed."

District Policy - Personal Communication Devices and Social Media
:
"Students may be allowed to use and possess personal communication devices on District property and at District-sponsored activities, provided such devices are not used in any manner that may disrupt the learning environment or District-sponsored activities, or violate board policies, administration regulations, acceptable use guidelines, school or classroom rules, or state and federal law.

UPDATE:

The Brown Middle School principal sent a message to her staff on Saturday to reinforce her school's expectations around cell phones and reiterated it with students during homeroom Monday.

"Due to a large scale and inappropriate use of cell phones on Friday, all electronic sound and voice devices will be "off and away" at all times. There is no longer an option for teacher discretion in classrooms or use during lunch. Please see BMS handbook or HSD district policy for more details. Feel free to come see me in person if you have any questions. Ms. Torres will send you a Monday home room lesson to reinforce "off and away" and the consequences for not following this expectation. Thanks for understanding the importance of keeping BMS a safe and healthy learning environment for staff and students. Enjoy your weekend.

Dr. Koreen Barreras-Brown, Brown Middle School Principal"