Body cameras in schools: Are School Resource Officers (SROs) and principals missing the big picture?
Many students will view body cameras as an instant barrier that only reinforces their hesitancy to reach out to an adult authority figure. Other students, who may be more willing to take the risk of bringing their sensitive concerns to a principal or SRO, may now even think twice knowing that whatever they say will be recorded word-for-word with their faces center-camera and stored in high definition digital files.
But this isn’t stopping some police departments, and now even a school district administration, from equipping school police and administrators with bodycams to record day-to-day interactions with students and parents in their schools.
Iowa school district equips principals with body cameras
The district’s superintendent, a retired National Guard colonel who served overseas where soldiers wore helmet cameras, feels the cameras provide “personal accountability.”
But the well-intended superintendent and his administrators seem to be missing the bigger picture. Their move of equipping educators with bodycams seems more like swatting flies with a sledgehammer than providing “accountability, ” especially considering it comes after one allegation of administrator misconduct that was proven untrue by an existing hallway security camera.
Body camera use in schools risks relationship building, raises privacy questions
Slapping body cameras on SROs and principals adds yet another barrier to the already daunting task school-based police and administrators face in building trusting relationships with the hundreds of children they work with every day. Decades of school safety research and experience point to “relationships” between students and adults as one of, if not the, most critical factors for strengthening school safety. At a time when overloaded educators don’t have enough time as-is to get to know their students, the last thing we need is another obstacle to doing so.
The bodycams also present a long list of questions regarding potential privacy violations and fairness in discipline:
- Will recording student conversations and details of their disciplinary issues, social and emotional concerns, and other incidences conflict with federal FERPA privacy rights?
- Are the bodycam recordings public records that schools and/or police can be forced to turn over in response to legal requests made under public records laws?
- How long will these recordings be stored? Where and how will they be stored? Who will have access and how will they be secured from unauthorized access?
- Will these recordings be retained and used against students in disciplinary proceedings? How will they impact due process? How long can they be retained and how far down the road can they be used in future proceedings?