Almost no one, including educators, likes to be recorded. But cameras have continued to proliferate in schools and many public areas. Once reserved solely for cafeterias, halls, and gyms, they are even starting to enter classrooms.
The General Rules
Anyone can be captured on video anytime unless there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is a gray area as to what that means, but generally, common sense prevails. For instance, cameras are not allowed in restrooms or changing areas. In contrast, since there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a classroom shared with students, there is no general legal prohibition on cameras there.
The Texas Education Code does, however, prohibit a school district or district employee from recording, or by policy authorizing the recording of, a student’s image or voice without prior parental consent unless the recording is for safety, related to curricular or extracurricular activities, or related to regular classroom instruction. So, the Education Code puts a practical restriction on when cameras can be used in many situations—only when the parents of a student who will be recorded allow it.
Cameras in Public Areas
Cameras have long existed in public areas, like hallways and the cafeteria. Since cameras are used to record what happens (and particularly to make a record that can be reviewed if an incident, such as a student fight, occurs), it has long been understood that the cameras were for safety. So, no parent permission is required.
Cameras Recording Classroom Instruction
Some districts allow students to record their teachers’ instruction to review later or for their absent classmates. The legality of this use of cameras was upheld by the commissioner of education in 2014. Again, there was no general expectation of privacy in the classroom. The commissioner also determined that even though other students would likely be captured in these recordings, no parental permission is required. This is because these recordings are related to regular classroom instruction.
Cameras Recording Classroom Instruction for Teacher Evaluations
Some appraisers have included a recording of a teacher’s instruction as one component of the teacher’s evaluation process. This practice has not been reviewed by the commissioner of education. While, again, there is no expectation of privacy in the classroom, serious questions exist as to whether the practice would violate the Texas Education Code. Unlike recording for the student’s use in studying, which the commissioner has approved, the recording for a teacher evaluation has no direct relationship to the instruction itself. Recording for teacher evaluation purposes also does not relate to safety or a cocurricular or extracurricular activity. Therefore, we believe it is questionable whether it is permissible to use cameras for teacher evaluations when students are present, unless parental permission is obtained.
Educators’ Use of Cameras
On occasion, an educator will think it wise to record a student to document misbehavior. Educators should be cautious about doing so because of the requirement for prior parental permission. While it may be possible for the educator to claim that the recording fell into the exception for safety, this is far from an ironclad shield. Educators should also know what local policies may exist. A local district can prohibit or restrict recordings even if the Education Code does not.
Cameras in Special Education
In 2015, the Texas legislature passed a law requiring public school districts to place cameras in self-contained special education settings upon request by a parent or district staff member. The law was amended in 2017 after the Texas attorney general gave the original legislation a far more expansive interpretation than the legislature intended. As of this writing, we are waiting for the commissioner of education to draft rules to implement the new law’s requirements. See the ATPE blog post at atpe.org/blog/cameras_sped for more specifics on cameras in special education.
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