The case raises the issue of whether a teacher has the right to make a video recording of students without their permission and what privacy rights a student has in a school.

As cell-phone cameras and handheld video recorders proliferate, the line at which public video recording becomes an invasion of privacy is still murky in the eyes of the law.

Until now, schools have had to wrestle with that question mostly as it has applied to students recording other students, or their teacher. But a case involving a Philadelphia educator flips that notion around.

Teacher Harry Drake became so frustrated with disruptive behavior in his Philadelphia public school classroom that he turned a video camera on the students—and was fired as a result.

A male student lunged at Drake and grabbed the camera, and a struggle ensued. But it wasn’t the student who got in trouble.

The Philadelphia School District removed Drake from his carpentry classroom at Randolph Technical High School in East Falls, banished him to teacher jail, and four months later in June 2009 fired him, asserting that he didn’t have his teacher certification, according to a lawsuit the teacher filed this month in Common Pleas Court.

Drake, who had taught in the district since 2003, is suing the district for wrongful termination. His lawyer, Daniel McElhatton, said the reason the district had cited for firing Drake was a “ruse.”

“I characterize the whole episode as the Alice-in-Wonderland incident, in that the world’s turned upside-down,” he said. “A student is disruptive and assaultive, and the teacher becomes the one who is punished.”