D.C. school confiscates camera, threatens to suspend student who filmed locked doors

WASHINGTON D.C. — A video camera used by aCoolidge Senior High School student to film potential fire code violations wasconfiscated by administrators on March 31.D’Anthony White’sfootage of chained school doors, which at other areas schools have been found inviolation of the fire code, was blacked out when the camera was returned, and hesaid school officials deny they tampered with it. He also said school officialshave indicated that if he brings a camera to school again, he will besuspended.White said he brought to school the video camera, which wasloaned to him by a reporter from the local ABC News station, to take footage ofthe chained doors. He was working on a story for the broadcast section of theUrban Journalism Workshop, a weekend program sponsored by the WashingtonAssociation of Black Journalists.White said he initially requested andwas given permission to record on campus by a Coolidge security guard. He saidhe shot footage of chained doors and was then approached by the security guardand the head of in-school suspension, Robert Alston. “They asked me to putthe camera away,” White said. “And so I put the cameraaway.”White said school officials later confiscated the camera andthreatened him with a 25-day suspension after Alston was misinformed that Whitewas filming for The Washington Post.On April 1, White said thathe was “verbally reprimanded” by Assistant Principal John Richardsonfor three violations of the discipline code: failing to follow the directions ofa public school official, using profane language on school grounds andpossessing an “electronic communication device” atschool.Coolidge High School officials said they would not comment on thesituation because White has a lawyer. D.C. Public Schools spokesperson PrenellNealy said White was in violation of the student discipline code.“Students are not allowed to bring electronic devices into schoolwithout permission,” Nealy said and that includes cameras.“That’s the guideline so the officials followed theguideline.”White concedes that he did use profanity when he wastold that the camera would be taken from him, but he holds that he was withinhis right to use the camera.Attorney Ted Williams, who is representingWhite, said, “I think that clearly, there have been some violations of Mr.White’s civil rights by individuals within the school system. They had nolegal right to take his camera after having given him permission totape.”Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press LawCenter, said, “There is serious question about the constitutionality of arule that bans cameras. Photo journalists rights are protectedtoo.”White said the camera was never returned to his possessionbut was retrieved by ABC News, which aired a story about the confiscation onMarch 31. The station reported that the videotape White used to film the doorswas blacked out, but there was some audio of school announcements on it,suggesting White’s footage could have been taped over. An administratortold the ABC reporter the school did not tamper with the tape. White said schoolofficials told him the same.“When I noticed that the footage wasmissing, my whole ambition of the piece crumbled,” White said.“It’s really sad that they want to deny it, when they need to acceptit and ask for more resources so they don’t have to resort to [chainingthe doors].”White said he declined to promise school officialsthat he will not bring a camera on to campus again, but he said he recognizesthat doing so could result in suspension.Williams said he has not yetfiled a lawsuit. “We are just seriously looking at the legal ramificationsand what, if anything, we would want to file a lawsuit concerning.”