For years, Ed Rooney, the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, had been the gold standard for terrible school administrators. No one has combined incompetence, arbitrariness and sheer vindictiveness like he managed to pull off. And to be fair, he had an advantage, given that he was a fictional character.
But as it turns out, Mr. Rooney may have met his match in Illinois middle school principal David Conrad. Mr. Conrad is the complaining witness in a felony charge against a 13 year old. The alleged crime? The student tape recorded a conversation with Mr. Conrad and assistant principal Nathan Short (_____ insert name joke ____) without telling them. I am not making this up.
Illinois is in the minority of “all consent” states, meaning a person may not tape a conversation unless every party to the conversation consents to the recording. The student didn’t reveal he was taping the conversation until about 10 minutes in. When he did, Mr. Conrad told the student he was committing a felony and ended the conversation.
And indeed, it is a crime in Illinois to record a conversation without consent of the parties; a class 4 felony to be precise.
This raises at least a few questions. First, why criminalize recording a public employee in a public building discharging public duties? Putting aside the public’s right to know, what possible expectation of privacy does a principal have in that encounter? What are we protecting here exactly?
Second, why in the world would anyone want to put a 13 year old at risk of a felony conviction for this? Seems like more of a teachable moment than a ticket to the big house.
And finally, think for a moment about the policy underlying this. I don’t know why the student was recording the conversation. But imagine a situation where the student had concerns about a teacher or principal engaging in physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Would it be a crime for that student to gather evidence with a tape recording? Maybe David Conrad thinks so. But that seems like a crazy lesson.