Do surveillance cameras violate students' rights?

Dec 16, 2011

The Fairfax County School Board decided Thursday to permit indoor video surveillance cameras for the first time, capping a months-long debate over whether such monitoring technology is appropriate and effective for public schools.

Those for monitoring students with surveillance cameras cite student safety and crime as the deciding factors, while those against installing the cameras worry about violating students' rights.

Chat with Elizabeth Schultz about why she thinks surveillance cameras are inappropriate in public schools and violate the rights of the students.

Agree? Disagree? Submit your opinion and questions on the topic now!

Thanks to Haley Crum and the Washington Post for setting this LiveChat up today. I am pleased to join members of the community and answer questions this afternoon!

Is the school board taking into account the role they play in shaping students' perception of the rights they will have in the future? What troubles me most about the lessened Constitutional rights afforded in the schoolhouse environment is that it sets future expectations. Fourth Amendment cases often hinge on whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in place, and we seem to be training kids to not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

This is one of the concerns I have expressed - students are still minors and we are still responsible for shaping them. Framing their rights in these formative years helps lay the foundation for the rest of their adult lives.

What best practice models have been shown to improve student behavior and discipline?

The problem with the cameras in schools v. public places (stores, banks, malls, etc.) is that children are required by law to be in school. They do not have the option. It is also an issue of developing a culture of respect, trust and formative behaviours.

How will surveillance of students prevent misbehavior from happening? Surveillance is not a preventive measure, but reactive at best. How are student's privacy rights not being violated? Why not put other measures in place to prevent the misbehavior? Where is the schools administration in all this?

The School Board last night argued that cameras will prevent poor behaviour. Modeling good behaviour is a better option - developing expectations and setting the bar to drive kids to adhere to those expectations.

If you would not pick your nose or fix a wedgie there, it is fair game for cameras.

The interior of schools are not public per se - you may not walk into a school at will and the children may not leave at will. The question of keeping children safe is not solved by the placement of cameras - they do not stop things from happening, only document (from a single perspective) what happened.

This may be related to the issue of video surveillance of school children: are there fears we may be overcriminalizing the activities of young people? Even criminology studies note that most criminals develop a maturing later in life and are less likely to commit crimes as they get older. School age children have not fully developed their senses of responsibilites and not yet achieved the maturity to make the best decisions. If we clamp down on children on more occasions, do we increase the risk of stigmatizing more young people as "criminals", which may prove to be more detrimental to their development in the long run?

Yes, this is a serious concern and the data proves this out. Currently, in FCPS, students with disabilities comprise ~14% of the population but are ~44% of the discipline infractions. A vast majority are boys and between the ages of 8th and 10th grade. We know where the general population of issues resides, so let's develop pro-active policies to help, not criminalize, adolescent behaviour.

since the supreme court has established that public schools have virtually identical rights as parents do while students are in schools (in loco parentis) how would cameras violate student rights any more so than a parent who puts a camera in their own home?

Children are not required by law to be in their home, they are required to be in school.

The School Board has not said they WILL have cameras, just that a school MAY have them...the schools inclined to get them will likely have higher poverty rates and FRM rates - so now we will have a "discipline gap" where we will not have parity in the meting out of punishment based on schools that do or do not have cameras.

Now that the School Board has approved this, what is your expectation that the new school board will plan to revisit and unapprove this as this clearly is not in the best interests of the students?

Some measure of this has likely got to come from the public. The argument was made last evening that "the surrounding jurisdictions are doing it so we should too". That sounds fairly similar to the "if your friends jump off a bridge, would you too?" scenario we all got growing up. The question is - has there been sufficient community engagement and parity in that engagement around the county and do we want unequal application of such serious measures as this? The public should be heard.

What are the alternatives to surveillance cameras? What is this PBIS that everyone talks about? I've never heard of it.

Alternatives include positive behaviour intervention models that set forth pro-active means for establishing and reinforcing behaviours.

Also, people - adults - are the best interveners and models of the behaviours we wish our students to adopt.

I grew up with cameras in schools and I'm fine. Students have very diluted rights in schools and certainly no right to privacy outside the bathrooms. Many urban school systems have cameras and their students are productive members of society. What's the problem here?

It is not a question of "did someplace else" have cameras - it is a matter of data-based decisions.

The data shows that cameras do not alter behaviour - they just direct WHERE and WHEN that behaviour occurs. The question remains "what is the point of the cameras"?

I'm troubled by the term "best practices" as used by FCPS. Seems to me best practices needs to be grounded in evidence. Just because surrounding school divisions have interior surveillance cameras does not, in and of itself, make it a best practice. What do you think?

There was no data offered that substantiate that cameras "keep kids safe" or how much "vandalism" we will inhibit.

How expensive are the surveillance systems? Who will determine where they are placed? Wouldn't it be discriminatory to place them in some schools and not in others thereby being construed as yet another violation of rights? In this economy, wouldn't the funds be better spent elsewhere?

This is another data-centered point...

The cost of the cameras is not just in acquisition and installation - it is in maintenance, tape storage, tape review, replacement/upgrades, etc. Who will be authorized to review the tapes? What are the qualifying factors that determine if an incident 'warrants' the tape being reviewed? Will tapes be turned over to the courts for prosecution? Which situations will we define as going back to exonerate someone? What do we do about 7th and 8th graders in Secondary Schools when no other Middle School (ostensibly) will have them?


What recourse do parents have when the current School Board has ignored parents' concerns regarding the flagrant violations of class size under Virginia State law over the last several years?

Class size live-chat maybe on another day!

I notice you say that law dictates that kids have to be in schools, but do not have to be in their homes.  So that is justification for not having cameras? With all due respect, that doesn't make sense. You don't have to send your kid to public schools.  Send them to private schools or home school them.

No - but if the children are registered in public schools, they are required to be there by law.

When I was in 11th grade, someone went through my purse in the classroom while we were at lunch and stole $40.00 out of it. We had cameras, so the person was caught. In those instances, cameras are definitely a good thing! And it taught other students that if they stole, then they'd get caught too. It really helped out with our school's theft problem.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.
- Thomas Jefferson

My understanding is that it is up to each idividual school, NOT whether a school is in an area of more poverty. If Robinson parents decide they want cameras, then what will you do since you have children that attend the school?

The policy passed does not give purview to the Principals. It states - or at least the School Board stated last evening - that the Principal MUST engage in full public engagement and provide that report to the Superintendent.

The citizens of Fairfax County expect the School Board to be the purveyors of policy, not local principals. Policy is meant to provide a public and fair process on the way our schools are run. If the installation of cameras is a local school decision and not applied uniformly, how can it be fair?

Agreed - and the issue of parity in an already controversial discipline policy is only exacerbated by unequal application of such a policy. If - if - the public and data support this as a "good" policy, then it would be good for all students, correct?

You sound like you rely a lot on just data when making decisions. a school board member you will base all of your decisions on data rather than public input?

No - that is the point of the nexus in leadership and representative government.

If, however, data reveals that something is a poor use of the public's resources, that cannot be ignored.

Are the surveillance cameras being actively monitored in the schools or only reviewed after the fact when something has happened/been reported? Is there a difference as far as student rights are concerned? Would it be any different if the schools had hidden lookout points where security could watch the halls (without use of cameras)?

Good questions - and ones we do not have answers to despite the passage of a permissive policy.

The cameras will protect the students from outside attack (sadly something that is happening in schools increasingly), not from their own poor choices.

How do interior fixed cameras protect students from outside attacks?

Students have the choice to be home-schooled or attend private schools; I see nothing about public school that requires an expectation of privacy. It's not as if these cameras are broadingcasting on a special cable channel. And if they can stop food fights and bullying, I say go for it.

How do cameras stop food fights?

Columbine had does not compute.

Why should anyone expect privacy when in public places?

Children do not have the maturation and fully developed brain capacities of adults.

School buildings - while paid for by the public's tax dollars - are not a come and go as you please location. It is not "public" in that sense.

Indeed they are: they are public property paid for with public tax dollars.

See previous answer. 

You didnt answer my question. If after full public engagement Robinson parents would like cameras what will you do? My children go to Robinson.

I appreciate your point of view and look forward to hearing it with other parents should we come to that stage.

I will not be advocating for them but am willing to listen to my constituents.

In one answer you say that the cameras will most likely be in schools where poverty exists and in another you say decisions will be based on public input from each individual school?! I'm not sure I understand the poverty part of this.

Schools like Langley and TJ have already intimated they will not have cameras - thus the "discipline or camera gap" begins.

FCPS provides opt out forms pertaining to student records and privacy yet there will be no opt out from having your children videotaped. Isn't this in some ways contradictory? Also, what is to prevent someone from using the video cameras in an inappropriate manner (installing in a bathroom, etc)?

This is an excellent question and one which seems to be in conflict with another policy. Exactly the type of ambiguity which needs to be addressed.

What data?

Typing in a Live-Chat makes it difficult to pull stats.

Agree that the data should be made available - I believe the Fairfax Zero Tolerance website may have some and will be happy to discuss data points when not in LiveChat. However, that begs a similar question - what data supports the cameras? The public has asked and has not seen any and that decision was made any way.

I absolutely agree that modeling behavior should be the goal, not monitoring misbehavior with camera surveillance!

It is interesting that the most salient argument in this regard last evening was made by EJ, our Student Representative.

He also made the point that students were concerned why they were paying athletic and parking fees but the schools were going to fund cameras. Exactly the type of discussion that needs to be had - with the students as well. Looking to and partnering with student leaders to build and model the expected behaviours is essential, in my opinion. They need to be a part of this discussion.

...means staying out of my house and my religious choices and political beliefs. It doesn't mean no one can take photos in public spaces. That is the very definition of private v. public.

Simply because a generation of students (minors) has been enticed to dispense of their own liberty does not mean we have to hasten the winnowing of it for them.

Since we do live in the Commonwealth, here's another opinion on the matter:

"It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own."
Thomas Jefferson

Your poverty explanation clearly needs more attention focused on it and your comments. What High Schools are in "poverty" areas in Fairfax and how does ones income level sway their personal decision on using cameras?

It isn't that HS are in a poverty area, it is that some of our HS have much higher at-risk populations. If some schools have cameras and some don't, then children who are in the schools who do are at a disparity  in their discipline process. If a HS with a large at-risk population has cameras, those students will have a greater percentage of discipline infractions than students at a HS which does not have cameras. That is an inequity that should be furthered by the action of the School Board, in my opinion.

Cameras in schools to protect the kiddies' civil rights must have been thought up in the San Francisco ACLU field office. What is the precedent for this? The hit TV show Big Brother? -red nova reader

"What is the precedent for this?" - good question which deserves a better answer than "other places are doing it"

If the cameras replace direct supervision which would be the ideal and they can reduce fear and crime and increase graduation rates by helping expose bad actors and gangs this is not a violation of anyone's rights. Not graduating high school is the real violation of civil rights here.

Cameras "can reduce fear and crime and increase graduation rates"?

That is a study or data worth sharing. If the School Board has that information, why has it not been shared with the public?!

I would like to thank all the participants and community members for reading and sending in questions on the LiveChat today. Many excellent questions and points were raised and, I believe, are perfect examples of how this issue has not been fully discussed. Consider keeping the dialogue going in your own school, community and with the incoming School Board.

Thank you for your time & interest!


In This Chat
Elizabeth Schultz
Elizabeth Schultz is a candidate for Fairfax County School Board Springfield District. She and her husband Brian of 20 years have four sons, three of whom are currently in Fairfax County public schools at Robinson Secondary, Clifton Elementary and Willow Springs Elementary.

Elizabeth is an Executive Board member on the Fairfax Education Coalition, a volunteer coalition of parents teachers and community members dedicated to strengthening public involvement with the School Board, monitoring actions of the FCPS administration and advocating for improved accountability transparency and community participation in the FCPS decision-making process.
Recent Chats
  • Next: