School districts could adopt policies that lead to installing cameras in classrooms and requiring teachers in the classrooms to wear microphones, under a House proposal filed this week.
Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, filed the measure (HB 1055) for consideration during the 2022 legislative session, which will start Jan. 11. Cameras would have to be located at the front of classrooms and would have to be capable of recording audio and video of all areas of the rooms, under the bill. Bathrooms or areas in the classroom where students may change their clothes would be exempt from recording, but not the areas immediately adjacent to bathrooms.
The call for cameras in classrooms isn’t new, although the debate first started several years ago in colleges and universities, to protect teachers from various accusations, rather than public schools. A Tennessee school district in 2014 piloted a project where video footage was used In July, Tucker Carlson, the right-wing polemicist on the Fox network, called for the installation of cameras in classrooms–to monitor whether teachers are teaching “critical race theory.” He also called for a “civilian review board in every town in America to oversee the people teaching your children.” Civilian review boards are usually appointed to oversee police conduct and investigate police brutality.
The Florida bill doesn’t allude to teachers’ curriculums or oversight, and specifies that the surveillance is not to be used to judge what and how teachers teach.
The bill makes no provision for financing the system. It only requires local school boards to vote on whether to implement such a plan–thus giving local boards the ultimate authority to install or not install cameras–and to come up with a financing plan by Jan. 1. (Surveillance systems can be expensive.) By making it a local issue, the law, if it passes, would almost certainly create a new wedge issue for local boards as proponents and opponents of the proposal would square off at school board workshops and meetings–already the stage of recurring and bitter theatrics–ahead of any such plan.
“If there is an interruption in the operation of the video camera for any reason, an explanation must be submitted in writing to the school principal and the district school board to explain the reason for and duration of the interruption,” the bill states. (Law enforcement officers generally don’t have to provide a detailed explanation or justification as to why their body camera may not have been turned on during an incident.”)
School districts would be required to notify students and parents, as well as school employees assigned to classrooms, before installing cameras. The manner in which they are informed is not set out. The bill calls for schools to retain copies of video recordings for at least three months (leaving open the possibility for much longer retention), or until an ongoing investigation is completed, if past the three-month limit. Video footage may not be used to evaluate teachers or for “any purpose other than for ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of students in the classroom.” But those broad terms are left undefined, again opening the door to the use of video footage in undefined circumstances.
If cameras captured a classroom “incident” that leads to the abuse or neglect of a student, parents of students involved in the incident or employees involved in incidents could request to see footage, and that footage must be made available within seven days. School employees investigating alleged incidents, law-enforcement officers and Department of Children and Families employees also would be given access to the recordings, which otherwise would be in the custody only of the school principal. DCF would have access to the footage as part of its child neglect or child abuse investigations. But the bill does not specify if that includes ongoing investigations of child abuse or neglect away from the classroom–where the overwhelming majority of that abuse takes place.
When footage is released, students not involved in the incident must have their faces blurred and their privacy protected.
The proposal would require school boards to vote on whether to implement plans to install cameras by January 2023.
To date, surveillance cameras are routinely installed in hallways, cafeterias, parking lots and the perimeter of schools, but not inside classrooms, where both student privacy and teacher autonomy have so far prevailed, although the year of covid, when most teachers conducted classes by Zoom, breached that autonomy. A 2015 study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that “The results provided no evidence that visible security measures had consistent beneficial effects on adolescents’ academic outcomes; some security utilization patterns had modest detrimental effects on adolescents’ academic outcomes, particularly the heavy surveillance patterns observed in a small subset of high schools serving predominantly low socioeconomic students.” A 2018 study in the Cambridge Journal of Education signals trust issues as a consequence of using cameras in classrooms.