Patterico's Pontifications

7/12/2015

Public School Principals Now Wearing Body Cameras

Filed under: General — Dana @ 11:31 am

[guest post by Dana]

As an increasing number of police officers nationwide now wear body cameras while on duty, public school principals in Iowa are also adopting usage of the small clip-on devices:

Burlington Community School District in southeastern Iowa is taking the unusual step of recording parent and student interactions with administrators — a move district officials say will protect both sides.

“It’s personal accountability,” Superintendent Pat Coen told The Des Moines Register. “Did we treat this person with dignity, honor and respect? And if we didn’t, why didn’t we?”

Coen also drew from his experience overseas in the Iowa Army National Guard where soldiers wore helmet cameras:

“You always knew that if you messed up, the whole world got to see you mess up,” Coen said. “It wasn’t so much about catching the other guy, but collecting how we did on the operation and how can we do it better.”

The cameras cost the district $85 each and are capable of recording a date and time stamp and can be turned on and off by the wearer.

However, some disagree with the adoption of the cameras and see it as going a step too far:

Ken Trump of the National School Safety and Security Services called it a “substantial overreach” by school leaders, one he wouldn’t want to see replicated in other districts.

“They’re not in the dark alleys of local streets on the midnight shift,” said Trump, president of the Ohio-based consulting firm. “They’re in school with children.”

He is also concerned about the legal question of private conversations being recorded.

Others see the move as a protection for both administrators and students:

Principal Mark Yeoman of Aldo Leopold Middle School said he was wrongly accused of kicking a student.

A parent had complained about the Burlington school leader’s behavior after he used de-escalation strategies to try to calm down a student. The incident was caught on a school camera, which Yeoman said he reviewed and later showed to the parent.

“They didn’t have to take my word over the child’s word. They were able to see it,” Yeomen said.

Yeoman would like to see even further use of cameras by monitoring students in hallways and in the lunchroom along with monitoring conversations with students and parents.

Over at The Atlantic, in light of several commenters supporting the use of the cameras, Conor Friedersdorf argues that it’s one thing when U.S. soldiers and police officers wear body cameras because they are protecting against deadly outcomes in real life and death situations, thus the benefits outweigh the cost. However, given that the stakes in public schools are typically not as high, the use of them in such a setting is not justified:

These responses illustrate the seductive power of mass surveillance: Before it is adopted, many succumb to the illusion that transparency can solve previously intractable problems. That belief is seldom vindicated. It may be that a school with an unusually severe bullying problem, for example, or rival gangs that are routinely having violent conflicts in the halls might benefit, overall, from transparency. (Though technology in the hands of incompetent administrators is likely to be used incompetently.)

It seems that most American schools, however, lack the levels of danger and crime that would justify relying on body cameras. And the effect of transparency in their hallways and classrooms could more likely divide than unite the communities they serve. Helicopter parents would perhaps constantly second-guess every perceived slight to their children. Administrators and teachers could cease behaving like normal humans and alter their behavior to minimize their chance of being criticized. Students could even cease having normal relationships with teachers and administrators. Maybe adolescents would find humiliations and trivial misbehavior recorded.

In all sorts of ways, the costs of surveillance would probably outweigh the benefits. And that’s why the seemingly inexorable creep of this technology should be resisted—not accepted.

–Dana


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