13 Year Old Charged With Felony For Recording Principal.

Paul Boron is a 13 year old who attends Manteno Middle School in Illinois.

Boron was called to the principal’s office to discuss a number detentions that Boron had not served. Before meeting with the Principal David Conrad and Assistant Principal Nathan Short, Boron turned on his cellphone to record the conversation.

The encounter went downhill from there:

Boron said he argued with Conrad and Short for approximately 10 minutes in the reception area of the school secretary’s office, with the door open to the hallway. When Boron told Conrad and Short he was recording, Conrad allegedly told Boron he was committing a felony and promptly ended the conversation.

“If I do go to court and get wrongfully convicted, my whole life is ruined,” said Boron, who lives with his mother and four siblings in Manteno, Illinois, an hour southwest of Chicago. “I think they’re going too far.”

In his petition to bring the charge, Kankakee County Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Laws wrote that Boron on Feb. 16 “used a cellphone to surreptitiously record a private conversation between the minor and school officials without consent of all parties.” Members of the Manteno Community Unit School District No. 5 board, Conrad and Short have not responded to requests for comment on the incident.

“We cannot comment on a pending matter, and we are not authorized to release confidential student information to the press,” district Superintendent Lisa Harrod wrote in an email.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that requires consent from all parties to record.

In 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a similar law in the cases of People v. Clark and People v. Melongo.

The court ruled that the law was overbroad and violated the First Amendment right to free speech because it prohibited recording and publishing speech that was obviously not private at all, such as “a loud argument on the street,” “a political debate in a park” and “the public interactions of police officers with citizens.”

Faced with the law going down the tubes, the Illinois legislature passed another similar law that appears to be just as vague:

But during lame-duck legislative session in December 2014, the Illinois General Assembly passed and Gov. Pat Quinn signed a new eavesdropping law. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, lawmakers included changes aimed at allowing residents to record interactions with police, for example, but kept intact the “all-party consent” provisions and introduced a difficult-to-gauge standard for when a person must get consent for recording.

Specifically, the new law made it a felony to surreptitiously record any “private conversation,” defined as “oral communication between [two] or more persons” where at least one person has a “reasonable expectation” of privacy.

Boron’s case raises a number of questions critics pointed out in the debate surrounding the 2014 law. Namely, when does someone have a “reasonable” expectation of privacy? And is it fair to expect Illinoisans to know where to draw that line in their everyday lives?

One of the eavesdropping law’s sponsors, former state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, responded to criticisms of the law’s clarity with an especially vague remark. How does one tell when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when recording police officers, for example? “We’ll know it when we see it,” she told the Chicago Reader.

The question in the Boron case is really one of whether the Principal and the Assistant Principal had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” which is the current standard in the Illinois law. We, like many others, do not believe that anyone can rightfully claim that a conversation in a public reception area with an open door has any “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Other states and courts have ruled that any conversation with public officials may be recorded. The reason for this is that the public has a right to know of the conduct of government officials. If anything, the ability to record public officials in all circumstances where they are acting in their capacity as a public official should make people treat citizens better. Recordings should also provide for a record of the encounter which could also belie false charges against the public official.

In the Boron case, there is something else as well. While we lean toward thinking that Boron is not a saint (who at 13 years of age was?) but we wonder if he would have been allowed to have a witness to the conversation between himself and two adults. Could he have called his parents before the conversation? (Probably not.) Could he have other students present at the meeting? (No, as that is a violation of the student disciplinary procedures.)

What does the teenager do to document the conversation with two adults that will back each other up?

He records the conversation as that is his only recourse.

Yet because the Illinois legislature is so afraid of what might be recorded by people in dealing with officials, Boron is now facing a felony in the fourth degree. If convicted, Boron is facing a minimum of a one year mandatory sentence in jail.

Class 4 felonies include aggravated assault, stalking, and some drug possession (30 grams but less than 500 grams of marijuana), and felony DUI.

(Good to know that recording a public official carries the same penalty as aggravated assault and stalking.)

Growing up, one of the mnemonic devices we learned was the difference between the spelling of “principle” and “principal.” We were told that the person who runs the school was spelled “principal,” because they were your pal, friend, buddy.

Not anymore. At least not in Illinois where the Principal and Assistant Principal of Manteno Middle School believes that a 13 year old should be locked up for a year for recording them.

Times change, but it still seems like officials seek to protect themselves no matter what.

2 Responses to “13 Year Old Charged With Felony For Recording Principal.”

  1. Bob Chadwick says:

    A 13 year old kid with a history of detentions backtalks his school principal, tries to record a disciplinary conversation, and starts whining about his life is ruined if he’s convicted of a felony?

    He is in school as a student. Along with a bunch of other students. His teachers and school officials are charged with educating these children and maintaining good order and discipline. When he graduates and takes on the responsibilities of an adult, then and only then does he have the privilege and right to argue with his elders and betters. Till then, his job is to keep his little mouth shut and learn Maybe it ain’t fair, but life in general ain’t fair.

    And I further suggest that those of us a thousand miles removed from this incident need to keep in mind that the folks we hired on to mold the character of our kids have a hard enough task without a bunch of outsiders second guessing them.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Bob Chadwick,

      Thank you for your response.

      No one is saying that the young man is an angel. At the same time, we don’t know what the detentions were for.

      Yes, teachers are there to teach and administrators are there to maintain an educational atmosphere which leads to the question “what lesson is the kid learning from being charged with a felony?”

      What exactly is the lesson the principal and the assistant principal trying to impart?

      We would disagree that a lesson that is good being taught here is “if you record us, you will be charged with a felony.” Notice in the story that once the administrators found out that the kid was recording the conversation, they ended the conversation, threatened the charges and walked away. Frankly, that doesn’t teach the kid anything other than they don’t like being recorded.

      The administrators could have called the parents. They could have talked to the kid and explained that he was breaking the law. Instead of an educational moment, they went for the “were are the school administration: fear us” lesson.

      Finally, the idea that schools and administrators cannot be second guessed or questioned is part of the problem. We respected our teachers and administrators growing up because they were educators first, examples second and never ever overbearing.

      This incident is all over the internet and the papers because of the disproportionate response by the school administration to the actions of the kid.

      A person who files felony charges against a kid when there is no harm done to anyone or any property should not be within miles of a student, much less as an administrator of a school.

      A. Afterwit.