By B.C. Manion
It came down to weighing the potential benefits against possible risks — and the pros of allowing cameras in school classrooms won the day.
Pasco County School Board members decided on June 5 the district’s code of student conduct should permit the use of cameras in classrooms, provided a school official grants permission.
The decision followed a debate led by board member Alison Crumbley, who expressed concerns that images captured in schools could be used for ill intent such as being posted in all the wrong places.
But other board members said the use of cameras can be beneficial to students, and they believe the district’s code of conduct adequately addresses the proper use of such devices.
Board member Cynthia Armstrong said the use of cameras is appropriate in many cases. Students who are members of clubs, for example, may want to celebrate their successes by taking photographs of each other when they win awards, she said.
It may also be useful for students to take pictures of slides or diagrams posted by a teacher, rather than copying all of the information by hand, Armstrong said. In those cases, a click of a camera can allow students to quickly capture the subject matter, allowing them to focus on the teacher’s lesson.
Crumbley agreed those would be good uses, but wants to make sure it stays within that realm.
“We just don’t know where all of this is going,” Crumbley said. “I’m just visualizing this going places where you don’t want to go.”
Crumbley expressed concerns that students will post inappropriate photos on Facebook, or use images to bully others.
“I don’t want the litigation falling back on us,” Crumbley said.
Board member Steve Luikart said the district might see a number of disciplinary cases arising from improper camera use.
He also agreed with Crumbley: “I do think we have to watch out for bullying aspects,” Luikart said.
However, both he and Armstrong pointed to the provision in the code of conduct that states cameras cannot be used “unless the student is given explicit authority to do so by a school official.”
The code also says the principal or the principal’s designee shall determine the appropriate use.
The code spells out areas of the school where a camera should never be allowed, said Lizette Alexander, director of student services for Pasco County Schools. No cameras can be used in restrooms, locker rooms and clinics — which are areas where there’s an expectation of privacy, she said.
The code also forbids use of improper images that may have been gathered by prohibiting the “accessing, viewing, posting, forwarding, downloading or displaying any materials that are defamatory, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, sexually suggestive, threatening, discriminatory, harassing and/or illegal.”
Board member Allen Altman said he understands Crumbley’s concerns.
“We can’t control Facebook,” Altman said.
He thinks the district should inform students that they can face serious repercussions, including expulsion, for any improper materials they post.
That warning, Altman said, needs to be spelled out in “big, bold letters.”
School board attorney Dennis Alfonso said the district’s policy attempts to draw the line between when camera use is appropriate and when it is not.
The question of allowing cameras in classrooms, he said, boils down to this: “Where is it that the board feels comfortable to draw the line?
“This is a difficult area for the board to regulate,” Alfonso added. “Everything is a slippery slope.”
But the attorney noted, the district’s code spells out restrictions and the district can enforce discipline against those who disregard its rules.
“There is some level of control — whether that is going to be enough, I can’t assume that,” Alfonso said.
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