With an eye on school safety, the Marion School Board will consider the installation of cameras in classrooms across the district at their next meeting, set for Thursday, Oct. 20, at the district’s Central Office.
In explaining the rationale behind the move, Superintendent Dr. Glen Fenter provided the following letter:
When we think of all the things that are important to us here at Marion Schools, perhaps nothing is as important as the safety of our school campuses. As educators, we are called upon to create school environments that are conducive to learning, first and foremost, where students and staff alike can feel safe. Truly, if we are not successful in this fundamental task, nothing else we do will matter. This is why, as a district, we are committed to doing everything within our financial and technological capabilities to create and sustain an environment focused on safety as our top priority.
Consistent with that commitment, we have clearly established an ongoing pattern of major investments in many programs and systems to continue to make our schools as safe as possible. This includes having uniformed security officers on each campus, implementing the RAVE Panic Button app, providing lapel cameras for school administrators and security officers, upgrading interior classroom doors district-wide, installing “sky cop” outdoor surveillance systems, and more. Moreover, we are in the process of investing over a million dollars in upgrading exterior doors for every building, including the installation of card-reader access controls at strategic locations.
And of course, we also have added hundreds of security cameras across the district. They are located in hallways, on buses, in athletic facilities, in offices, and throughout outdoor spaces. On many occasions, our camera system has been beneficial in helping our staff identify and respond to incidents occurring on our campus.
But we also know that our current camera deployment is limited. Because we have not had cameras inside classrooms, more than 50% of our facility square footage is not covered. We believe this is a problem that should be addressed.
This is not an endeavor we have taken lightly. We have spent considerable time researching the effectiveness of classroom cameras, seeking to learn the best practices for such a system. We found many examples of schools where cameras in classrooms have been credited with reducing the number of fights and other unwanted incidents during the school day. A research project done by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory confirmed this very thing – that cameras in classrooms have a demonstrated impact as both a deterrent to unwanted incidents in classrooms, as well as a tool to identify and appropriately respond to incidents.
We also learned that cameras in classrooms can have a great impact in protecting faculty from students who might deliberately misrepresent classroom confrontations and level false accusations. As Mark Powell, a former teacher, vice principal, and dean of students with San Diego Unified School District put it, “A video recording could be the one thing that saves a teacher’s job when there are false accusations of misbehavior, and could protect a student from a teacher who is abusing them verbally, emotionally or even physically.”
Most of all, we also wanted to learn from the first-hand experience of people we know, who have worked in districts where cameras were used in classrooms. Here are some of the things we heard:
- James Scott, MJHS Principal, had this to say about his experience with cameras in classrooms at the Stuttgart School District:
“The experiences that I had with cameras in the classroom were all positive. They gave the teachers a sense of protection against students/parents accusing the teachers of saying unethical things or not teaching; they improved behavior because the students knew the cameras were in the rooms; and they gave parents a sense of ease because they knew the cameras were there. The teachers didn’t like the idea at first, but throughout the years, they realized that the administrators were not using it as an ‘I got you’ but as protection for them.”
- Sandra Halley, MSD Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development, said this from her experience in the Warren School District:
“From my experiences with cameras in the classrooms, I found that teachers were provided an extra layer of support both for their own classroom management procedures and against unwarranted accusations. While teachers were often reluctant to accept the cameras, in my experiences, they discovered that these cameras were not a ‘gotcha’ but rather an aid for them day in and day out.”
- Greg Hodges, MSD Director of Special Education, offered his experience from his time at the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District:
“Truthfully, the teachers initially hated the cameras. We explained when they would be used – parent complaints against a teacher, student complaints against a teacher, teacher complaints against a student that the parent or student argued against, or student complaints against fellow students. Once we outlined that for them, they were fine. They made discipline and parent meetings go much smoother when we had the actual video.”
- Bobby Ashley, retired Blytheville principal/superintendent, had this to say about his experience with classroom cameras in the Blytheville district:
“Cameras in the classroom have been nothing but a positive for our buildings when I was there. The teachers were hesitant in the beginning, but once they truly believed us and that they'd be used for nothing other than a safety measure and a deterrent for student behaviors, they were very supportive of them. I completely understand teachers' thought patterns in thinking they'd be used for evals, but that was never intended nor used in that manner. I surely hope that your staff gives them a try as they'll find that students think twice if they know their movements are on camera.”
- Richard Atwill, current West Memphis superintendent, also had experience with cameras in classrooms when he was superintendent at Blytheville:
“In the beginning, the idea of cameras in the classrooms didn't float real high. It took a lot of conversations by the principals to convince the teachers that the cameras weren't to be used for evaluations or monitoring. We had discussions that the cameras were to be used for backup for the teachers, and at that end, it was well received. After several instances where teachers were supported and/or safety was provided, cameras were a welcome sight. In teacher evaluation, teachers eventually began to request copies of certain lessons they taught to add as artifacts for their Professional Growth Plan (always requested by the teacher, not an administrator). At that end, cameras were like chairs or instructional materials, just another part of providing a good and safe education for children.”
- Chuneka Scott, HCGC assistant principal, shared her experience with cameras in classrooms from when she worked at the Stuttgart School District:
“I am in favor of having cameras in MSD classrooms. I have previously worked in a district (2012-2014) where cameras were installed in the classrooms and only saw them as a benefit. The camera footage was viewed in instances where items came up missing. Administrators were able to identify the exact person who took the item(s) and where they placed them. The cameras were also beneficial in instances of conflict or physical aggression from a student which was directed at staff members and/or other students. This aided administration in providing appropriate consequences and also proved that the accusations that were made against a staff member were false. In one particular situation, the staff member could have lost their job if the camera footage was not available to prove their innocence. To my knowledge, administrators never used the footage for observations/instructional purposes or to "spy on" staff members. Due to the safety and security they will provide, I feel that cameras would be a major asset to any classroom setting.”
- John Evans, MSD director of campus safety, has not had direct experience with cameras in classrooms, but he offered this insight regarding the effect of body cameras in law enforcement:
“As a former full-time Memphis Police Officer and current MPD reserve, I worked in the field before and throughout the implementation of body cameras in the Memphis Police Department. As police officers, we were apprehensive about this new change, as most are when it comes to the implementation of something different. Yes, we believed the cameras were another method for controlling and monitoring officers' behavior. We, as patrol officers, noticed a significant decrease in the number of suspects who sought to engage in disruptive or criminal behavior once the cameras were activated. I have seen first-hand how the suspect's mood and behavior improve when the cameras are recording. I am certain that this idea of installing cameras will work not just on the streets of Memphis, but also in classrooms of the Marion School District.”
To be clear, our cameras in classrooms initiative is based solely on a desire to make our schools safer, and to ensure that both our students and our staff are as protected as they can be. It is not at all difficult to imagine a crisis situation – like the one in Uvalde, Texas, earlier this year -- where the presence of cameras in classrooms could literally save lives. With a robust camera system, not only can we deter unwanted behavior, but we will be able to pinpoint the location of school threats, providing invaluable protection for our students and staff.
Our system will include cameras in every classroom, which will be able to capture both images and sound. The cameras in each building will be able to be monitored from a central location. Footage will not be accessible to parents or the general public. Video Footage captured by cameras will never be used as part of teachers’ summative evaluations. In total, the system is estimated to cost approximately $260,944.02. We believe this will be an incredible additional investment in the safety of our schools. At the end of the day, there is no better way to spend money than to ensure that our students and staff are protected.
I hope this letter has provided valuable insight into the rationale of this project. Please read on for additional testimonials in support of our initiative. If anyone has additional questions, please feel free to reach out directly to me.
As always, thank you for supporting the work we do to prepare our students for success in school and in the world beyond. It is truly an honor to be a part of this amazing Patriot community.
Additional testimonials in support of cameras in classrooms
- Mike Skelton, MHS principal:
“Most, if not all, schools, already have cameras throughout their campuses which are beneficial for improved access control, crime prevention, student safety, teacher safety, and emergency preparedness. The addition of cameras in the classroom adds another layer of protection for students and staff. While we hope that nothing ever goes wrong, schools are not immune to safety and security risks. Teachers are the front line of school security, and they deserve a safe and positive work environment where they can focus on their students without worrying about their own safety. While active shooter incidents rightfully get most of the media's attention, there are many other safety and security challenges such as physical violence (i.e. fighting, assault, rape, etc.), drug and gang activity, bullying, theft, vandalism, etc. that not only interfere with academic achievement but also put massive pressure on schools and school personnel.”
- Betsy Laughter, VPA principal:
“I think there is a common misconception regarding the ‘why’ behind the installation of cameras. Teachers have expressed concerns about privacy and about cameras being used in order to evaluate teaching. If privacy and trust are the main concern, then the use of cameras isn't the issue -- the issue is lack of trust between staff and the administrative team. The topic of relationships needs to be addressed, and we need to be transparent about who will have access to video footage and any parameters that will be in place in regard to teacher evaluations and monitoring. Teachers fear that if parents have access to video footage, they will begin to pick apart every word and action in order to justify a student’s poor performance or behavior.
Teachers feel that their classroom is a personal area. They do not necessarily agree with the law's view that a classroom is a public space. They have a hard time understanding why confidentiality in the classroom would differ from confidentiality within a private office -- where the law does not find it permissible to install surveillance devices. This creates an "us against them" mentality where it may appear as though expectations and treatment varies according to your role in our education system.
There have been many instances where a camera installed in a classroom could protect a teacher from disciplinary action. Students are experts at utilizing even the smallest increment of time in order to engage in unbecoming behavior. Having the resources to view classroom incidents will enable us to make certain that students and teachers are being treated equitably, that we have access to an accurate depiction of the facts, and that an objective perspective can be utilized in determining outcomes or consequences.
The presence of cameras could also circumvent potential misbehaviors. When students know that video footage can be reviewed, they are less likely to engage in behavior that will result in the assignment of consequences.
All in all, the protection provided by the addition of cameras to our classroom significantly outweighs the amount of concerns teachers may have, especially considering that the majority of those concerns can be put to rest with simple explanations.”
- Alexia Weimer, MST principal:
“I am in full support of installing cameras in all classrooms. Student and staff safety has to be our number one priority. Cameras in classrooms allow us to provide a level of safety and security that our students and staff deserve. In today's current climate, I feel it is necessary we provide every safeguard possible.
Every measure we can take to potentially prevent negative incidents allows us to focus on our main mission -- student achievement.
To those who may be opposed to cameras, my argument would be that cameras in classrooms only serve as an added resource to help teachers and staff do their jobs. In most instances I have investigated, camera footage has served as support to teachers and staff and proved to be beneficial … in the teacher’s favor.
Since the installation of cameras in common areas in our building, there have been two instances where a student made an accusation that a teacher put their hands on them. In both cases, the parents were threatening to call the police and file an assault charge against the teacher. In both instances, camera footage proved these accusations to be false. We have had other student accusations of a similar nature that could not be disproved with camera footage because they happened in classrooms. Being falsely accused of something that could take your livelihood away is unsettling, to say the least. Having a resource that can prove that accusation to indeed be false is something that is very powerful. This is just one of the reasons I support cameras in the classroom. They have protected my staff’s livelihood.”
- Shelbi Cole, HCGC principal:
“Cameras in each classroom would serve as the ultimate protection for our teachers. Just this year, we had an incident at HCGC that could have been solved by simply referring to the cameras in the classroom. Instead, several law enforcement agencies were called and investigated the incident and it was later determined that the prosecutor would not pursue the case. This investigation took hours upon hours to conclude because the alleged incident took place inside the classroom where cameras are not currently present. In this instance, campus administrators would have simply reviewed the footage to determine next steps had this security measure been in place in each classroom. Our teachers deserve this level of protection, and I fully support its implementation.”
- Sean Gray, HCGC assistant principal:
“I am highly in favor of having cameras in the classroom. The amount of safety and protection they would add to our schools would be immeasurable. Thinking back to my time as a classroom teacher, the cameras could have provided a significant layer of protection regarding student accusations against not only other students, but myself as the teacher also. As an administrator, it will assist us tremendously for situations when students have vastly different recollections of events that occurred in the classroom. The cameras we already have in public spaces are invaluable to finding out the truth and making the appropriate decision based on the truth. The potential new cameras in the classroom would certainly only increase the ability to find the truth and protect our students and teachers.
- Brannon Hinkle, Marion Chief of Police:
“The Marion Police Department fully supports cameras in the schools, including classrooms. Cameras would assist in any worst-case scenario that the police department/school district trains for and could save lives.”