News Story

Grand Blanc schools: Cameras in classrooms would violate student privacy

School cellphone policies will be more strictly enforced as parents call for more classroom access

Installing cameras in classrooms in the name of giving parents a window into their child's education would violate the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act as well as Grand Blanc Community Schools’ policies, an attorney said at a July 19 board of education meeting.

The Grand Blanc View reported that parents and a board member had asked the district to place cameras in classrooms, or to allow students to use cellphones during class time. Advocates of the move say it would increase school transparency.

An attorney for the school district, however, said classroom cameras would run afoul of student privacy rights. “If a camera is in the classroom, each one of those children has a privacy right in that video recording, which can’t be waived other than by each of their individual parents,” Jeremy Chisholm said at the July board meeting. “FERPA essentially provides that parents have an almost unrestricted access to any identifiable education record for their children.”

No one else has a right to this record unless the parents give explicit written permission. Chisholm mentioned a hypothetical video recording of a class of 30 children. If one parent wants access to the video, the school must obtain permission from the other 29 parents.

The district does not have a responsibility to protect students from being recorded by other students, Chisolm said, unless the recording is shared with the administration.

Chisholm said that to his knowledge, no school in Michigan has a camera in a classroom, and FERPA is the reason.

There are thousands of cameras across the district in hallways, buses, and common areas, all for safety reasons, Superintendent Trevor Alward said at the meeting. But, none are in the classroom, he added.

Alward asked for Chisholm’s legal opinion about the district’s cellphone policy, which effectively forbids students from using phones in the classroom. Grand Blanc school officials have gotten pushback from some students and parents after telling parents and students on June 23 that would again enforce the years-old policy. Enforcement had grown lax in recent years.

Board policy 5136 states: “Cell phones, media players, and other related portable electronic devices may be used before school, after school, passing time, and during a student’s lunch period. Internet ready devices may be used in class at the discretion of a teacher for educational purposes only.”

It goes on to prohibit cellphone use in the classroom, unless a teacher grants students permission for a specific educational purpose:

“Any electronic device used during class without teacher consent or one that causes a disruption during class time will be confiscated. Cameras, including cell phone cameras, shall not be used without specific prior consent from the classroom teacher. Students violating this policy will have items confiscated and will face progressive discipline.”

At a June 27 board meeting, some parents said they were concerned about the policy. They said that without students being able to collect video or photographic evidence, parents would not be aware of issues in the classroom. The parents cited as examples pride flags being displayed in classrooms, class discussions of white privilege, and sexually themed art projects.

Board member Amy Facchinello said she recognizes that cellphones can be a distraction in the classroom, but she also sees them as a valuable tool for her own children.

“There’s been times when there has been something going on in their classroom that they were very uncomfortable with, and they were able to videotape or photograph whatever it was they were concerned about and bring it to my attention,” Facchinello said at the June meeting. “If we’re going to eliminate the children’s ability to videotape things, then we need to find a replacement for that, which would be cameras in the classroom. It is a tool for their safety.”

Board member Yasmeen Youngs, a former high school teacher, said in June that cellphone use has “gotten out of control” and interferes with learning.

“To say the reason why we want the phones out of their hands is because we want to hide what we’re doing in class is totally not what’s happening,” Youngs said. “When you’re trying to engage students and get them focused on learning, to have that distraction on their desk, you lose them every time they look down at their phone.”

Youngs said she understands that kids need their phones and doesn’t want to take them away. She said that when students keep their cellphones in their backpacks, teachers don’t have to compete for their attention.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.