Use caution with video surveillance

Video surveillance can be a tool to provide safety for students and staff, and to protect school property against theft or vandalism. However, using surveillance cameras in school settings can cause issues in many different areas, including privacy expectations, retention and disclosure of video records, and use of the records for disciplinary or evaluative purposes.

Sara Clark, deputy director of legal services for the Ohio School Boards Association, provided an overview of these topics and shared best practices that can be replicated by other districts during a pre-conference session Friday at the COSA School Law Seminar.

Clark’s presentation started with an overview of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures and governs where districts can set up surveillance cameras. The ultimate measure of the search’s constitutionality, Clark said, hinges on where the taping occurred and whether the individuals being taped had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Using recent lawsuits as illustrations, Clark cautioned participants that some spaces have greater privacy expectations than others. For examples, using surveillance in a break room is different from a locker room. To avoid lawsuits, Clark recommended that districts notify students and staff of the camera’s presence, narrowly tailor the time and scope of the taping, and establish clear procedures for maintaining and viewing the recordings.

Another hurdle is the district’s ability to disclose or share video records, Clark said. The Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits districts from disclosing personally identifiable information without consent. Whether a district may release surveillance footage typically hinges on whether the tape is an “educational record” for students who appear on it. Clark outlined the uncertainty regarding the use of video images under FERPA and the current informal guidance that districts now get from the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO). Additional guidance from the FPCO should be released in the next few months.

Conference participants also received a review of the collective bargaining implications that video surveillance can cause. Using surveillance cameras is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, Clark said, as courts have compared them to other investigatory tools like physical exams and drug tests, which are required to be bargained. Districts were encouraged to engage their unions and bargain over the practice of using cameras before they are implemented.

Erin Walsh|April 21st, 2012|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|

Leave a Reply