Grand Blanc View

School district attorney addresses classroom camera issue

GRAND BLANC — Placing cameras in classrooms would violate the Grand Blanc Community Schools’ policies as well as the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, an attorney has advised.

“Essentially, (FERPA) provides that parents have an almost unrestricted access to any identifiable education record for their children and nobody else does unless the parents give explicit written permission,” attorney Jeremy Chisholm said during the Tuesday, July 19, Board of Education meeting.

Recordings of students are considered educational records for each individual student, he said.

“If a camera is in the classroom, each one of those children has a privacy right … which can’t be waived other than by each of their individual parents,” Chisholm said.

School Superintendent Dr. Trevor Alward sought a legal opinion after the June school board meeting when several area residents and board Trustee Amy Facchinello asked that cameras be installed so parents can monitor what’s going on in the classrooms.

The request followed on the heels of public comment about allegations a high school teacher showed students the graphic horror movie “The Human Centipede” and allowed students to make clay penises. Those allegations appeared online in June in an unverified report attributed to a website known for promoting conspiracy theories.

Alward has said personnel matters are confidential and district officials can’t discuss details of an internal investigation into the allegations.

The district has two policies on recordings in buildings. One, which refers to surveillance and security cameras, is “very clearly separated” from the other, which prohibits classroom recordings except as authorized by the teacher for specific educational purposes, Chisholm said.

The policy on classroom recordings is in compliance with FERPA, he said.

It’s a complicated issue that becomes even more complicated when extenuating circumstances, such as disciplinary matters, become involved.

School board Vice President Martin Ray said he has fielded many calls from parents of students facing disciplinary actions.

“It’s an area of frustration when a parent is trying to understand their child’s role in something that has led to a disciplinary matter,” said Ray. “It’s hard to explain to a parent who is trying to understand what happened, what might have initiated it and their student’s role in it. Are we denying due process if we don’t allow access to the full video? How are we not denying them due process?”

The current position of the Office for Civil Rights is “absolutely every recording that identifies a student must be treated as a record,” Chisholm said. Parents may view recordings to the extent that the identities of students other than their children are protected, he said.

School board Treasurer Yasmeen Youngs asked whether a student recording of an incident would go against FERPA if the student showed the recording to others.

“If they don’t share it with (district officials), it doesn’t become a record that we have an obligation to protect,” Chisholm said.

Similarly, Zoom meetings and online classes held during the COVID shutdowns were not recorded so, again, there is no record to protect, he said.

Facchinello pointed out classroom cameras still could be installed if they were pointed only at the teachers so as not to identify any students.