It seems that there are cameras everywhere; at your traffic signal, in retail stores, elevators and even in many daycares. Cameras are there to “protect” drivers from running red lights, stop shoplifters and allow parents to monitor their small child’s daycare day. With so many advantages to using cameras, is the classroom the next, best way to protect our children from bullying, abuse or sexual contact and our schools from theft, vandalism and violence?
Recently a second grader at Markham Elementary reported children taking their clothes off and being naked in the classroom. The child also reported that two second graders; were subsequently seen by the whole classroom engaging in oral sex. The teacher has been suspended, and Troy Flint, a spokesperson for the Oakland Unified School District reports, “He’s saying he has no knowledge of the reports, and we have to see how we can reconcile these stories.”
The pros to classroom cameras
Parents, school administrators and teachers that encourage the use of a camera in the classroom believe that video from the classroom could be used for training future teachers as well as evaluating student and teacher performance. It may also bring about improved test scores as a result of improved student behaviors. By utilizing cameras in the classroom parents may feel more involved and connected with their child’s education, and better able to deal with some of the situations that they hear about after the school day is done. And maybe, cameras in the classroom could be broadcast to children home sick from school, making it easier for them to keep up with their classwork.
The cons to classroom cameras
Some fear that a camera in the classroom would cause a negative effect to the teachers/student rapport and dynamic and may for some teachers cause them to alter their teaching style, thinking that they are being “judged.” Others worry that a camera in the classroom could actually negatively affect student behavior as students may act out in a way to draw attention to them knowing that they will be seen. Some teachers may feel that their discipline is second guessed, especially since parents may be logging in and logging off, capturing just a few minutes in time in the classroom.
A student’s point of view on cameras in the classroom
In a “Letters to the President” students are able to post their thoughts on a variety of subjects. One student writes in, “I do not see the big deal of the cameras, if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing then what is the big deal of someone taping it? Half the time the videos are not even watched. They are only analyzed if there was a problem in the classroom or in the hallway . . . many people will complain about the right to privacy, but a school is a public building. If they are so worried about their actions being taped then why are they acting in that manner in the first place?”
Civil rights and cameras in the classroom
Many United States and United Kingdom laws and courtrooms have upheld the ruling that students have significantly less privacy rights while in school. Student lockers may be searched, in some cases without a warrant and some school even require passing through a metal detector when entering the school.
Security and classroom cameras
In Overton, Tennessee parents and students sued the school district for 4.2 million dollars as a result of a visiting team caught on tape changing in the locker rooms. Cameras had been installed to catch students skipping class, but in this case not only did it catch them undressing, but due to failures to install the proper security measures and password protection on the cameras.
The security of the information that comes from cameras in the classroom is of paramount importance. Many states have privacy laws regarding specific information that may or may not be released in the academic setting. Should the cameras be permitted to be broadcast during the school day using web access? Or should they simply be used to review allegations? Many worry that if not constantly monitored they lose their effectiveness, while others worry about “anyone” being able to view who and what is happening in our schools.
While many teachers and administrators may hold that cameras in the classroom may have a negative impact on the classroom environment, there appears to be an equal number that believe that cameras would actually improve the classroom, allowing them to spend more time actually teaching and less time on discipline and classroom management.
The National Education Association has this to say, regarding “Monitoring and Observation of Teacher. . . All monitoring or observation of the work performance of a teacher shall be conducted openly and with full knowledge of the teacher. The use of eavesdropping, public address, audio systems, and similar surveillance devices shall be strictly prohibited. No mechanical or electronic device shall be installed in any classroom or brought in on a temporary basis which would allow a person to be able to listen or record the procedures in any class.”
Parents seem to be overwhelming in favor of cameras in the classroom whether it is for a child care or college setting. They feel that it allows them to be part of their child’s day and actually be able to observe what is going on, as well as provide a sense of security. While many schools claim to have an “open door” policy, that would entail not only taking time off from work but there are also many days where parental involvement is discouraged, leaving parents not wanting to return.
Far too often, reports from students are a teacher said or did vs. student said or did. Using cameras in the classroom may help to avoid those challenges for school administrators as well as provide parents with an understanding of the situation.
College classrooms are often caught on camera, and then used for distance learning programs as well as training tools and faculty evaluations. Just this year counties in Texas, Maryland and Georgia installed cameras to catch cars swerving around school buses, and in Georgia the decision to use this technology was because a car swerved around the stopped bus, ignoring the stop arm and killed a kindergarten girl as she crossed the street. Will the K-12 system have the same technology available that our colleges and buses do; and should it?
For more information on parental involvement in schools read “Four Proven Techniques for Parental Involvement in Middle School” and “Ideas, Benefits and Resources for Parental Involvement in Schools.”
Letters to the President (letters by students)
NEA Legal Issues Concerning Academic Freedom