Keeping security cameras out of school classrooms is a hot button issue for educators and parents nationwide. As the public's perception of school violence grows, so too does the debate.
Keeping Security Cameras Out of School Classrooms: the Debate
Maybe we should have seen it coming. There are cameras on almost every big city sidewalk, in the elevators we ride, and even at many of our school's entrances. But cameras inside a classroom? Has it really come to this?
On the One Hand
Some say yes, and they use high-profile tragedies such as the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 to justify their position. Having cameras in the school classrooms would not only identify potential conflicts, but would also discourage lesser offenses, such as dozing off in class, starting a fight or using a cheat sheet. For the folks on this side of the debate, having cameras in the classroom just makes good common sense.
On the Other Hand
Others, however, maintain a different point of view, and don't hesitate to point the finger at the media. With their never-ending quest for ratings and sensationalistic journalism, the media, opponents claim, has painted a picture of school violence that simply doesn't exist.
For example, in 2001, US News & World Report reported that the murder rate for juveniles was the lowest since 1996, and that the odds of being killed in school was less than one in two million. New York News Upfront, a magazine geared toward teens, observed that more people die from being stung by bees than from being shot in school.
These individuals believe, because of these kinds of statistics, that keeping security cameras out of school classrooms are best for the student and the teacher.
In Overton County, Tennessee, Livingston Middle School installed cameras in both the girls' and boys' locker rooms because the school administrators were concerned that students were sneaking out of gym class. Even though both cameras were pointed toward the doors leading outside, the wide-angle lens still managed to record the images of more than a dozen 10- to 14-year-old students changing their clothes.
But it gets worse. These images of the school children undressing were accessed over the Internet nearly 100 times by non-authorized users because the school had not changed the access codes from the original factory settings.
As one can image, parents, outraged over this violation of their children's privacy, filed lawsuits in federal court against the Overton County School Board for several million dollars in damages. The case is still pending.
What do Teachers Think?
Here too, we find two camps of thought. There are teachers who would welcome having a camera in the classroom, while another group of educators believes that keeping cameras out of school classrooms is the best road to take.
Teachers who are in favor of cameras in the classroom site improved student behavior as the main advantage. They feel that this would literally translate into higher test scores for everyone.
Of the teachers who feel that keeping cameras out of the school classroom is the best policy, most fear an invasion of the teacher-pupil relationship. That is, there is great concern about the possible effect cameras may have on students and how that may in turn impact their interaction with their teachers. These teachers site the erosion of student/teacher rapport and claim that cameras may, eventually, affect their teaching styles.
A Final Word
The courts have repeatedly held the ruling that students, while in school, have significantly less privacy rights than when they are not in school. Does this mean then that the courts will find cameras in the classroom perfectly legal?
Not necessarily so. The outrage expressed by the Tennessee locker room incident could weigh heavily on their minds. Further still, the courts will look carefully at the reality of school violence (and its low numbers) and match that up against the sensationalistic perception of school violence. What the court ultimately ends up deciding is anyone's guess. The best we can do right now, is just wait and see.