Privacy advocates are up in arms after a school district in southeastern Iowa decided to outfit its administrators with body cameras.
The Burlington Community School District will be recording parent and student interactions with principals and assistant principals with small, clip-on video cameras in a move administrators say is about “personal accountability.”
The 4,300-student district will be among the first in the nation to implement such a policy which will be enforced at each of the district’s eight schools.
Ken Trump of the National School Safety and Security Services has called the move a “substantial overreach” by school leaders, saying, “they’re not in the dark alleys of local streets on the midnight shift, they’re in school with children.”
Trump says body cameras serve a different purpose than traditional surveillance equipment. While security feeds only monitor the movement of students, body-cams record individual conversations – raising legal questions and privacy concerns.
Trump also asserts that body cameras could prevent administrators and school resource officers from cultivating trusting relationships with students, which could result in reluctance to come to the adults when there may be a problem.
“You have to ask, really, why are we doing this?” Trump said. “And is it going to create more problems than it solves?”
Administrators like Principal Mark Yeoman of Aldo Leopold Middle School are citing successes made by the police and military after implementing body-cams and claims he was wrongly accused by a student of kicking him, but was later vindicated by school surveillance footage.
Atlantic journalist Conor Friedersdorf contends however that, “Americans who spend their childhoods in schools where all interactions are recorded for review are likely to regard constant surveillance outside the home as normal.”
“Note that stark contrast: For U.S. soldiers who are in Afghanistan, as well as American police officers, body cameras guard against misconduct or errors that regularly have deadly consequences… Yet here, a veteran of Afghanistan and a school police officer recommended body cameras when the stakes involve… a principal wrongly accused of kicking a student. If that’s the country’s new threshold for the benefits of intrusive surveillance outweighing the costs, it may as well dispense with half-measures and adopt 1984-level scrutiny.”
The district has spent about $1,100 to purchase 13 cameras at about $85 each. They record with a date and time stamp, can be clipped onto ties or lanyards, and can be turned on and off as needed.
Burlington’s supervisor of technology, William Brackett said at the end of each day, principals will be responsible for uploading the recordings, and reviewing and distributing the videos when questions arise.
Policy surrounding the use of the cameras is currently being developed by the district.