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Use of Body Cams by School Officials Prompts Concern

A school district in Iowa will have administrators and principals wear body cameras to keep records of their interactions with students and parents. It is not yet clear how this footage will be used, and advocates worry about the cameras’ impact on students.

Body-worn cameras have already found their way into some schools on the vests of school police officers. But Burlington Community School District is taking things further. In an effort to improve improve interactions with its 4,300 students, the District will purchase cameras to be used by administrators and principals. “It’s personal accountability,” District Superintendent Pat Coen explained to the Des Moines Register.

The use of body-worn cameras by school officials raises new questions. These cameras are not “in the dark alleys of local streets on the midnight shift,” said Ken Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services agency. “They’re in school with children.” Because of that, the privacy rules governing the footage would likely be different from those governing police cameras, likely triggering the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

However, advocates like Trump worry that cameras in schools could prevent trust building between administrators or resource officers and students — the opposite intended effect. For example, without that trust it’s possible that students could feel discouraged from getting help for sensitive issues such as abuse, mental health problems, or reporting friends who might be engaging in dangerous or destructive behaviors. Superintendent Coen also admits that footage could be abused to target or implicate students for petty minor infractions, a concern echoed by the ACLU’s Jay Stanley: “More likely than not, body camera footage is just going to be whipped out left and right for the enforcement of petty rules and disciplinary disturbances.”

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