Do Surveillance Cameras Belong in the Classroom?

There is no easy answer.

Ask around and you will hear strong and conflicting opinions about whether or not webcams belong in our classrooms. With school safety a major issue in a post Columbine, Newtown, Virginia Tech world (sadly the list goes on way too long), parents need to know that their children are protected and staff need to feel secure. As of 2014 school year,  75 percent of public schools reported using security cameras to monitor their buildings. Most educators do believe they belong in the communal spaces of a school— hallways, cafeteria, entrance ways—but the classroom?

The debate over classroom surveillance rages on. A recent survey revealed that 70% of educators felt cameras in the classroom could be useful in preventing theft, vandalism and cheating. A recent discussion on WeAreTeachers.com a the  feelings and reactions from teachers were mixed. Many feel it’s an invasion of privacy while others worry that cameras would disrupt the level of comfort they feel in front of students.

A bigger issue, as Miranda N. pointed out, is who sees the footage? “As a parent, my worry about a live stream is who could be watching? I have some safety concerns about [strangers] constantly knowing where my kid is if they so choose,” she says. “I think cameras in halls are fine, but I don’t think they should be in the classroom unless administration or a security team are the only ones viewing it.”

Miranda is right to be concerned. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act  regarding a parent’s right to access video footage taken of their children at school is murky—at best. There have been a few court cases where judges ruled that video footage obtained by school officials or other district contractors were not considered education records. Therefore, that footage couldn’t be accessed by the students or their parents.

When it comes to nipping behavioral problems in the bud or clearing up misunderstandings—cameras have come in handy. “We have cameras in hallways and it’s great for tracking down miscreants. Toilets used to deliberately get clogged,” Katherine K. told us. “After tracking down the last students in the bathroom—problem solved.” Even though Katherine has first-hand experience with a positive impact of surveillance—she still doesn’t want cameras installed in her classroom.

There’s no simple answer and this will remain a polarizing and divisive issue for a long time to come. For now, the only solution is to keep the conversation going with your staff, parents and fellow administrators around the country. To keep the conversation going, read on for more thoughts, opinions, arguments and concerns over cameras in the classroom that teachers revealed to us.

 

1. Cameras are not okay for my students or my own children

“I was asked by my child’s school about it and I said I felt it was an invasion of privacy in the classroom. Most of the other parents said no. As a teacher, I’m against it as well.” —Lorena I.

2. Why is it okay for teachers and not other professions?

“If we wouldn’t do it for doctors and other professionals, why would we do [put cameras] on teachers? It’s an invasion of privacy. Hallways, yes, as it’s a safety issue to know who’s in your building at all times. But, why would you need them in classrooms? This summer, I sliced my toe open and my husband wasn’t even allowed to take a picture of it before they stitched it up [at the ER]. The nurse completely covered it up and asked him to put the camera away. But we want to put cameras in classrooms?” —Christina B.

3. Will I be watched AFTER the students go home?

“We have cameras in hallways and outside. None in the classroom. I don’t want them in there. Anyone is welcome to pop in and watch me teach, I have nothing to hide. I wouldn’t want my own child filmed seven hours a day. Also, I don’t want to be filmed when I’m on prep, or working after school.” —Jaclyn S.

4. It feels like someone is always watching me

“We have cameras in the classroom at my school. It’s good in case a student or parent says something happened—but I don’t like it because feels like I’m on watch.” —Franky H.

5. You can get the same effect WITHOUT a camera

“There’s this robot dinosaur up on my shelf that looks like he has a camera in his head. I tell all the kids that it’s watching them—but it’s not. I just need leverage on some of my more ‘stretch-the-truth’ kiddos.” —Emily N.

6. The students are already filming—so why shouldn’t we film too?

“I’m to the point where I wouldn’t mind a camera in the classroom. I’m tired of kids throwing things and getting away with it because I didn’t see who exactly did it.  And, the students are turning their cameras on too.” —Dolores D.

7. Cameras work—in moderation

“We have cameras in the hallways and outside that run all the time. We have them in our classrooms, as well, but teachers have control over them.” —Paige N.

8. It’s a good protection plan

“There are cameras in our rooms. I don’t mind it, as they’re not viewed on any regular basis. Our principal can review if needed, but at his discretion. I don’t do anything that I wouldn’t want seen. It does give protection in case parents or students decide to lie about something in class.” —Jennifer H.

9. Could cameras be a confidence booster?

“I used to teach Kindergarten and second grade. I have a licensed in-home daycare now and voluntarily put live stream cameras in my home to give the parents’ peace of mind. I’m so used to it now, it wouldn’t bother me. I have nothing to hide, the cameras have actually given me more confidence over time.” —Brittany C.

10. If you have nothing to hide, then why not?

“We have them where I work and I love them. If you’re doing the right thing there should be no worries.” —Brenda R.

11. A good hallway strategy

“We have them in the hallways but not in classrooms. If I have an angry parent, I try to meet with them out in the hallway so I know there’s video of whatever happens.” —Sarah S.

12. What if other parents are watching your child?

“When I worked in a private preschool, we had cameras hooked up to an app so parents could watch their kids 24/7. I think it makes some sense when parents are leaving their babies with you. However, it was creepy to think about a parent watching a child that wasn’t theirs. Now that I’m in public school, I wouldn’t be okay being filmed when I didn’t have a class in session. I’m not sure how they’d coordinate that.” —Paige T.

13. Cameras = less paperwork

“We have cameras in the hallways, but at least once a day I wish I had one in my classroom. I want the deans of my high school to see what really happens—not just my written referral and the students’ versions. The deans want so much documentation, and I don’t have time to stop and document.” —Heidi B.

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Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal

Posted by Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal

Lauren West-Rosenthal is a senior editor at WeAreTeachers. In the fourth grade, she started writing "bonus chapters" to her favorite books. Her teacher was impressed -- and encouraging -- and a vast writing career was born!