This school year, Texas became the first state to require school districts to install cameras in special education classrooms if requested by parents or staff.
The law was in response to concerns that special education students with limited communication skills are sometimes incapable of reporting abuse or violence in schools, according to a report in Education Week.
Now, other states are considering similar rules. Last year, Georgia passed legislation that allowed cameras in special needs classrooms, but on a voluntary basis. Several districts are considering their own proposals for video monitoring.
Proponents say that cameras in classrooms give communities a neutral point-of-view to examine potential incidents of abuse. As Georgia State Representative Valencia Stovall recently told WALB 10 News:
“The camera serves as the third objectionable eye when it comes down to what may be taking place inside classrooms. That’s the kind of thing that helped me move with this particular legislation is hearing the different accounts of things that happened with our most vulnerable students.”
In the age of smartphones and social media, we’ve grown accustomed to pervasive video recording. But many states—and schools, for that matter—still struggle with important questions of privacy and safety related to classroom recording.
To mitigate the controversy, here’s three key questions you and your community should consider before making a final decision about whether to install cameras in your classrooms.
1. Is your district ready to prioritize safety over privacy?
Should students, and their teachers, expect some level of privacy in classrooms? That’s the primary question school leaders are grappling with as they consider the benefits and drawbacks of classroom recording.
While cameras in public spaces—hallways and cafeterias, for example—are commonplace, classroom surveillance is less common, writes Bob Nilsson for Extreme Networks:
“The idea of placing video cameras in classrooms to record all teacher and student activities has not been met with universal acceptance. People have a natural instinct to distrust surveillance and to guard their privacy.”
Parents should consider how recordings will be stored, and who will have access to those recordings. Teachers, on the other hand, might question if recordings will be used for anything other than resolving accusations of abuse. For instance, will school leaders use the footage to evaluate teacher performance?
2. Will cameras in classrooms change school climate?
We all act differently in front of a camera.
Schools should consider to what extent electronic monitoring might change how students and teachers behave in the classroom.
Will students be less willing to engage with their work—to take a chance, to fail—if they know administrators are watching? Will teachers be less willing to take risks for the good of learning and experimentation?
For more on technology’s role in preventing violence in schools, read How technology is beating back violence in schools.
School communities should also consider their current school climate—and decide whether cameras are the best option.
In a report on cameras in special education classrooms, the international disability advocacy group TASH writes, “Surveillance of students and teachers in schools, rather than making schools safer, can conversely create a climate of fear, mistrust, and victimization among students and teachers.”
3. Do you have the financial and technical resources to support cameras in your schools?
While new technology makes it easier than ever to install cameras in classrooms, district and school leaders must assess the short-term and long-term costs for such systems.
Does your school district’s network support video monitoring? Do you have a secure way to store video footage as well as the staff to support its use? Do you have a comprehensive policy for how classroom video footage is shot, accessed, and shared? Can you write one?
Such questions might seem obvious. But understanding the cost to your district, and to taxpayers, for new video systems is vital.
Is your district considering installing cameras in your classrooms for special education or other reasons? Already have them? What steps have you taken to engage your community in the debate? Tell us in the comments.