BULLOCH COUNTY, Ga. (WSAV) — A seventh-grade teacher at a Bulloch County middle school is trying to keep his job after a video shows him shoving a student as classes changed. The incident, which happened in early December, was the focus of a hearing in Statesboro on Tuesday.
Testifying in front of the school board, Marc Roundtree told board members the student jumped up behind him, saying “I felt someone grab my shoulder and I felt a presence on my back” as an explanation for shoving the child.
The seventh grader’s mother, who we aren’t naming to protect the child’s identity told the school board she got a phone call about what happened, when it happened, but wasn’t told about the security camera recording. That mom says the video showed much more for a violent encounter than what she was originally told.
While WSAV’s Investigative Unit waits on the Bulloch County School District to release the surveillance video, we’ve learned the student journalist from Georgia Southern was confronted by the district about recording the public meeting.
Katie Koblasz, a junior at GSU, enrolled at the school’s journalism school was asked to hand over her recording of the meeting, hours after it started.
Koblasz told WSAV’s Lead Investigative Reporter Brett Buffington a spokesperson for the district told her, “I could get sued for having the footage and that I could get into a lot of trouble because I have no credentials.”
In a Facebook post prior to the meeting, Bulloch County Schools promoted the “specially-called meeting” Tuesday as open to the public. That meeting turned out to be a hearing for the 7th-grade teacher, which the district says is required under the Georgia Fair Dismissal Act.
While that meeting was being held according to state law, Georgia Association of Broadcasters attorney Derek Bauer says the school district may have broken Federal law by asking for the student journalist’s recording.
While school districts are bound under law to keep student information confidential, during an open meeting or in public, Bauer says journalists have no legal obligation to do the same. Many stations, including WSAV, often “de-identify” minors for ethical reasons.
Bauer said undoubtedly, the Bulloch County School District was in the wrong for even asking for the student journalist’s recording, after opening the meeting to the public.
The school district, answering a request for a statement from WSAV said,
“The Bulloch County Board of Education held a specially-called meeting at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 31, 2023, pursuant to Georgia’s Fair Dismissal Act. At the meeting, the Board heard evidence and arguments concerning the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate the employment contract of a teacher in the district. The meeting was presided over by a hearing officer.
Just as the school district is proud to host student teachers, the district also welcomes the opportunity to serve as a learning environment for students preparing for future careers. For that reason, student journalists with the Communication Arts Department at Georgia Southern University were present for, and recorded, the majority of the meeting.
During the meeting, members of the Board raised concerns about protecting the privacy rights of a minor student who testified at, and was referenced throughout, the meeting. As the district’s counsel was actively participating in the meeting on the superintendent’s behalf, a representative of the district asked the student recording the meeting for permission for the district to hold the media card from the video camera until the student journalist’s faculty advisor and counsel could be consulted. The student journalist who was recording the meeting agreed and willingly provided the media card to the district.
Having now had the opportunity to consult with the faculty advisor and counsel and to discuss with counsel about the competing right to record an open meeting and any privacy rights of the minor student, the district has concluded that audiovisual recording of the meeting was authorized by O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-58(c)(2) and 50-14-1(c). The district has also concluded that no portion of the audiovisual recording of the meeting is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as that recording is not “maintained by” the school district and is thus not a protected “education record” under 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(4)(A).
For those reasons, the school district has returned the Georgia Southern students’ media card to them, unaltered, and will take no further action with respect to that recording.”
While Katie Koblaz says the district was polite in its request for her to hand over her video, she did feel somewhat intimidated, and worried that no one would have her back, should she not comply. “She told me that I didn’t have any credentials as a student, and I thought that no one was going to be behind me and helping me,” Koblaz said.
The journalism student walked away from our interview Wednesday, with new thoughts on that, learning a lesson about the power of journalism.
As for 7th-grade teacher Marc Roundtree, the school district hasn’t decided on his future. The spokesperson for the school district says the board has five days to decide, but the school superintendent has recommended Roundtree be fired.