Protecting Student Privacy in the Age of Video Monitoring: Best Practices for Schools (with special focus on FERPA)

Łukasz Bonczol

Introduction: The Growing Importance of Video Monitoring in Schools

In an era where digital technology has been integrated into virtually every facet of daily life, schools are no exception. The use of video monitoring in schools is increasing at a rapid pace, fueled by the need to provide safe learning environments. However, with the growing adoption of such measures comes the critical question of student privacy, family rights, and the application of education law in the context of this evolving landscape.

Why Schools Should Have Security Cameras?

Benefits and Implications of Having Security Camera in Schools

Security cameras in schools offer numerous benefits. At a basic level, they act as effective deterrents against disruptive behavior, bullying, and other forms of misconduct. The presence of cameras can discourage students from engaging in such activities, thereby fostering a more conducive learning environment. In addition, cameras serve a crucial role in incident management, providing visual evidence that can assist in investigations.

However, while the benefits are substantial, schools also need to carefully consider the implications. The integration of video surveillance brings to light critical issues around student privacy and the rights of parents and families, areas governed by complex legislation like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Undeniably, a well-structured security system incorporating video cameras can significantly enhance the safety and well-being within a school setting. It not only benefits individual stakeholders - students, teachers, parents, and faculty, but also enriches the school community as a whole.

Apart from instilling a reassuring atmosphere for everyone involved, video security systems also ensure prompt responses to any disturbances, including the presence of unregistered visitors, cases of bullying, or instances of theft. This peace of mind can attract new students and reduce tension within the school environment, fostering a setting conducive to learning and growth.

Applications of Video Security Systems in Schools

In addition to enhancing safety, these cameras play a critical role in preventing bullying, thanks to their ability to record student interactions, thereby providing tangible evidence if needed. The sheer presence of security cameras often discourages criminal activities, thereby shielding school properties from potential theft or vandalism. In instances of untoward incidents, the footage recorded can serve as vital evidence for law enforcement agencies or insurance companies. Further, these cameras are excellent tools for monitoring visitor movements, ensuring compliance with designated area restrictions.

Strategic Placement of Security Cameras in Schools and Student Education Records policies

Maximizing the effectiveness of video security systems relies heavily on their strategic positioning within the school premises. Cameras placed in areas of high activity, such as hallways, entrances, stairways, cafeterias, gymnasiums, playgrounds, auditoriums, stadiums, and parking lots provide comprehensive coverage and enhanced security. While privacy concerns generally rule out classrooms for camera installations, cameras located in hallways can offer partial visibility of classroom doorways, providing insights into student behavior and teaching effectiveness.

The duration for which surveillance footage must be retained varies between states. For example, while Texas law stipulates a minimum six-month retention period, schools in West Virginia are required to keep the footage for three months. Understanding these state-specific norms is paramount when setting up a school's video security system.

Key Considerations for Optimal School Video Security System Implementation

To ensure the successful implementation and optimal use of a school video security system, adherence to certain best practices is recommended:

  1. Real-time monitoring: Assign dedicated security personnel to actively monitor live footage. This aids in the swift identification and resolution of potential threats.
  2. Regular backup: Maintaining a backup of your surveillance footage is crucial due to the often lengthy nature of interactions with law enforcement agencies and insurance providers. This ensures the availability of necessary evidence even after an incident. Suitable storage solutions can help preserve video quality and prevent the accidental overwrite of archived footage.
  3. Establish alert systems: Leveraging technological advancements like AI and machine learning, modern cameras can efficiently detect patterns and threats. Setting up alert systems to promptly notify relevant parties enables quicker response times and reinforces the security framework.

In conclusion, while video security systems present vast benefits for schools, it's also important to weigh the privacy implications and ensure compliance with legislation such as FERPA. Balancing these considerations, schools can create a safer and more secure environment for learning and growth.

Unintended Consequences: The Paradox of Increased Crime with Classroom Security Cameras

In the pursuit of heightened security, the integration of cameras in classrooms might seem like an intuitive step. However, studies suggest an unexpected outcome: an escalation in the incidence of crime within the school environment, barring property damage. This seemingly paradoxical scenario begs closer examination.

Investing in surveillance technology certainly has significant financial implications. Beyond the initial outlay, there's also the ongoing maintenance and potential need for upgrades or replacements. Yet, the real cost might not be financial. The presence of cameras could unintentionally provoke more behavioral issues that school authorities need to address.

Furthermore, the utility of classroom cameras comes into question when we consider the locations where conflicts typically erupt. Instances of aggression and misconduct are more frequently reported in less supervised areas like hallways, bathrooms, and staircases, where classroom cameras provide little to no coverage.

Perhaps one of the more concerning implications of increased surveillance is its potential contribution to the controversial "school-to-prison pipeline" phenomenon. This concept refers to the stringent application of punitive measures and zero-tolerance policies in schools, which some argue can unintentionally set students on a path towards the criminal justice system. An elevated surveillance presence might foster an environment more akin to a correctional facility than an educational institution, potentially exacerbating this effect.

In conclusion, the deployment of classroom security cameras requires a thoughtful balance. While their role in ensuring safety is unquestionable, their inadvertent implications on student behavior and the overall crime rate warrant careful consideration.

Monitoring Cameras and Student Privacy

The Rise of Monitoring Cameras in Schools: An Overview

The rise of monitoring cameras in schools is a development fueled by increasing concerns around safety and security. Additionally, the ubiquity of smart devices has transformed the landscape of school districts, introducing both practical and legal implications for their use in educational settings. These devices, alongside traditional CCTV cameras, offer real-time monitoring capabilities, aiding in the detection of potential threats and the prevention of incidents. They also serve as an avenue to monitor adherence to school rules and regulations, thus fostering discipline among students.

The Impact of Student's Education Records Maintained on Student Privacy

Recording students in the educational context typically requires a clear educational rationale, such as aiding a student's learning or capturing student activities like plays or sporting events for performance improvement. Teacher-supervised classroom projects involving video or audio are also generally permissible. However, these cases often require prior administrative approval to maintain the balance between educational benefits and privacy rights.
Despite the increased use of surveillance equipment, educators and administrators must navigate a complex legal landscape. Although the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) doesn't explicitly govern recording practices in schools, it obliges schools to protect student privacy. Videos involving students can become part of an "education record" if they focus on a specific student and are kept by the school, contrasting with broader footage from school events.

Navigating Special Education, IEP Meetings, and the Consequences of Unauthorized Recording

While the impact of recording practices on privacy and legality generally applies to all students, some unique considerations are pertinent to special education settings. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not directly address unrestricted parental access to special education classrooms. However, it is acknowledged that parents of children with disabilities have a vital role in their child's education. Thus, the right to observe classrooms largely depends on local and state policies. In general, recording in classrooms isn't deemed essential for meaningful parental participation under IDEA.

As far as IEP meetings are concerned, IDEA doesn't provide specific guidance, leaving the decision-making largely to local school boards. They are tasked with crafting rules permitting or restricting recordings, allowing room for exceptions when a recording is necessary for a parent to comprehend the proceedings. This delicate balancing act demonstrates the importance of understanding and respecting the unique privacy concerns within special education contexts.

Another crucial aspect to consider involves the legal consequences of unauthorized recording. In the U.S, recording conversations without the consent of all parties can be illegal, depending on federal and state wiretapping and eavesdropping laws. Consequently, schools need to navigate these legal boundaries carefully when it comes to recording in educational settings to uphold both the law and student privacy.

The Impact of Video Surveillance on Student Privacy and the Evolving Dialogue

Despite the safety benefits, the advent of video surveillance and its widespread use has led to complex questions about student privacy. The devices that help maintain security and discipline within school premises are the same ones that capture day-to-day activities of students, creating a tangible record of their actions and behaviors. This duality raises concerns that constant surveillance may infringe upon students' rights to privacy, risking the transformation of schools into spaces of constant scrutiny.

The nuanced nature of these privacy considerations underscores the need for an ongoing dialogue. With the rise of surveillance in schools, discussions around privacy concerns must evolve in tandem. The role of surveillance in education is multifaceted, and while it can be a tool for safety and discipline, it must be implemented responsibly, with respect for student privacy at its core. The dialogue around surveillance and privacy in schools, thus, isn't a completed conversation but a continuous and dynamic exchange as technology and legal landscapes evolve.

Family Rights in School Surveillance

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Its Relation to Video Surveillance

FERPA, a federal law in the United States, governs the access and privacy of student education records. Under FERPA, parents have the right to access their child's education records, an entitlement that transfers to the student when they reach 18 years of age.

However, the relationship between FERPA and live video surveillance is complex. While the law doesn't explicitly mention video records, it does broadly define education records as those directly related to a student and maintained by an educational agency or institution, or a party acting for the agency or institution. As such, if a video surveillance record directly relates to a student, it could fall under the purview of FERPA.

Parental Rights Regarding Viewing and Use of Surveillance Footage

Under FERPA, parents have a right to access their child's education records, but this right has limitations when it comes to surveillance footage. For instance, if a video includes multiple students, the school may have to balance the rights of all students involved. Furthermore, schools are not generally required to create or provide new records in response to a FERPA request, such as by editing or manipulating footage to show only one student.

Balancing School Security and Student Privacy: Legal Considerations

The Dichotomy of Maintaining Safety and Respecting Privacy

Striking a balance between maintaining school safety and respecting student privacy is a complex task, even more so in the age of digital technology. While cameras can deter bad behavior and ensure the security of school premises, they can also be seen as intrusive and overbearing. This dichotomy poses a unique challenge for school administrators and legal professionals alike, as they navigate the intricacies of laws like FERPA in the context of school surveillance.

FERPA and Its Implications on Video Surveillance

FERPA's role in regulating school surveillance practices is significant. As surveillance footage involving students can be considered education records under the Act, schools are required to handle such records in compliance with FERPA regulations. This includes ensuring the privacy of the records, managing access requests, and, in some cases, providing parents or eligible students the opportunity to inspect and review the footage.

As detailed in an insightful article by M. Thomas Trenholm, Esq., Understanding FERPA: Privacy Requirements for Schools, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") has specific provisions that directly impact the use of video surveillance in schools. FERPA stipulates that a photo or video of a student can be classified as an education record under two conditions:

  • The material is directly related to a student;

  • The material is maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting on behalf of the agency or institution;

  • These regulations denote that video recordings of classroom lessons can qualify as education records protected by FERPA, but only if they directly relate to a student and are preserved by the district or a party representing the district's interests. It is essential for educational institutions to grasp these nuances in order to navigate the complex intersection of student safety, privacy, and the law effectively.

How Schools Handle Viewing Requests?

Protocol for Submitting and Processing Viewing Requests

When a parent or eligible student requests to view a surveillance video, schools typically follow a standard protocol. This includes verifying the requester's identity and their right to access the record, determining if the video is an educational record under FERPA, and considering the rights of other students who may be visible in the footage.

For instance, all viewing requests must be made in writing, and only those with a direct interest in the recording are allowed to request viewing. Viewing requests must be directed to the Safety and Facilities Coordinator or the IT Coordinator within 6 school days of the recording date. Approval or denial for viewing requests will be communicated within 1 school day of receiving the request, and upon approval, the recordings will be made available for viewing within an additional school day.

Schools may also consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with FERPA and other applicable laws. Recordings remain the property of the school and may be reproduced only in accordance with applicable law and Board policy.

Common Scenarios for Viewing Requests and Their Handling

Schools may receive viewing requests in various scenarios, such as when a parent wants to understand the circumstances leading to their child's disciplinary action, or if there's a safety concern. Schools handle these requests by reviewing them on a case-by-case basis, considering the FERPA status of the video, and the privacy rights of all students visible in the footage.

Parents or guardians can request to view recordings of their children only if these recordings have been used in disciplinary proceedings related to their children. Such requests are processed according to the school's FERPA Policy and other relevant laws. In the case of safety or security incidents or suspected incidents that necessitate review, the video footage will be reviewed only by authorized employees, unless express permission is granted by the School Director, Assistant Principal, or other administrative designee.

Who Can View CCTV Footage?

The right to view CCTV footage in schools is primarily dictated by FERPA. Parents and eligible students generally have a right to inspect and review education records, including video footage, that directly relate to the student. However, other parties may be granted access under specific conditions, such as school administrators investigating an incident or law enforcement officers carrying out their duties.
Video footage can be viewed only in the presence of at least two authorized persons, including but not limited to the School Director, Assistant Principal, Chair of the Charter Governance Council, Safety and Facilities Coordinator, IT Coordinator, or another administrator designated by the School Director. Viewing is usually conducted only at the Business Office, unless otherwise required by law.

Furthermore, schools maintain a detailed written log for those viewing video recordings, capturing the date and location of viewing, reasons for viewing, date the recording was made, and the viewer's signature, as required by law.

Are School Security Videos Considered Confidential FERPA Records? The Ongoing Debate

Different Viewpoints on This Question

The question of whether school security videos are confidential FERPA records is a subject of ongoing debate. Some argue that these videos are educational records protected by FERPA, given that they capture information directly related to students. Others contend that not all videos fall under this category, and it's necessary to consider the specifics of each case.

Detailed Explanation of a Recent Case That Ruled Security Videos Are Not Confidential FERPA Records

A recent case that has brought this issue to the fore is the 'Davis v. St. Johns County School District' case. In this case, the court held that the surveillance video was not a FERPA record, as it was not kept for the purpose of tracking a student's behavior or progress. This ruling underscores the complexity and nuances of classifying surveillance videos under FERPA.

Does FERPA Permit Legal Representatives of Parents or Eligible Students to Inspect and Review Videos with the Parent or Eligible Student?

According to FERPA, a school must allow a parent or eligible student to inspect and review the student's education records. This would typically include a legal representative acting on their behalf. However, this is subject to the same conditions and limitations - namely, the rights of other students who may be visible in the footage.

"Are School Security Videos Considered Confidential FERPA records? A Question in Spotlight Once Again

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has long been a cornerstone in safeguarding student privacy. But an ongoing debate regarding its scope revolves around whether school security videos fall under its purview as confidential education records. An incident in Connecticut has reignited this discussion, illustrating the complexities of the issue and the need for careful consideration in its interpretation.

The Unsettled Question of Surveillance Footage under FERPA

School security videos often capture essential moments that have significant ramifications for the students and staff involved. Yet, whether they are considered confidential educational records protected by FERPA remains an unsettled question. The ambiguity arises because such videos may contain information directly related to students, potentially qualifying them as educational records. Conversely, others argue that not every video should be considered as such, necessitating case-by-case examination.

A Connecticut Case Brings the Debate to the Forefront

As reported by the Student Press Law Center, a recent incidentin Connecticut has brought this issue back into the limelight. The principal of an elementary school, Carmen Perez Dickson, came under scrutiny following accusations of physically abusing two kindergarteners, with the alleged act captured on a school surveillance camera. The school district, however, declined a request by a Connecticut Post reporter to view the footage, invoking FERPA and labeling the video a 'confidential education record'." (Reference link)

This situation took a twist when the Connecticut Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission contradicted the school district's claim. The Commission, granting reporter Linda Lambeck access to the video, ruled that it did not qualify as a confidential FERPA record.

The FOI Commission's Interpretation of FERPA

Two primary reasons influenced the Commission's decision. First, the children in the videos were blurred enough that they couldn't be readily identified, thereby maintaining their privacy. This reasoning contrasts with the U.S. Department of Education's perspective that a record can still fall under FERPA, even with identifying information removed, if a requester could determine the student involved.

Secondly, the Commission asserted that the video "directly relates to the conduct of the school principal and not to the students who appear in them." This interpretation is vital because it prevents educational institutions from masking allegations against their staff by incorrectly categorizing such cases as "student records."

A Step Towards More Transparency and Accountability

The unanimous ruling by the Commission puts Connecticut in line with states like New York and Louisiana, where courts have similarly declined to categorize surveillance videos as FERPA records. This decision aids in clarifying the legal landscape surrounding school security videos and FERPA, emphasizing the need for transparency in school disciplinary cases.

While the school district has the right to appeal the decision, it remains uncertain if they will take such action. For now, this ruling stands as a substantial precedent, reminding schools and educational institutions nationwide to apply FERPA judiciously, rather than using it as an excuse to deny access to records that can uphold transparency and accountability."

Clarifying the Status of School Surveillance Videos Under FERPA: Recent Court Rulings

"Within the educational sector, the classification of school surveillance videos under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) remains a significant point of contention. According to Tucker Arsenberd Attorneys, recent court proceedings in Pennsylvania have provided some clarity on this subject, decreeing that such videos, particularly when depicting interactions between adults and students, do not qualify as education records under FERPA. Instead, they are regarded as public records under the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL)." (Reference: Tucker Arsenberd Attorneys)

Two court cases, in particular, Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller and Central Dauphin School District v. Hawkins, have been instrumental in defining the relationship between surveillance videos and FERPA. Both cases involved surveillance videos from school buses – one depicting a teacher harshly disciplining a student, and the other recording a confrontation between a student and another student's parent. In both instances, the school districts initially denied the request for the video, claiming them as education records under FERPA.

However, the Office of Open Records (OOR) disagreed with this categorization, and the trial courts upheld the OOR's perspective. They reasoned that the footage in question related directly to the adults involved, not the students, hence didn't qualify as "education records" as defined by FERPA.

FERPA outlines specific regulations to ensure schools receiving federal aid don't disclose sensitive student information without parental consent. Educational records, under this act, are materials that both pertain directly to a student and are maintained by a school district. Therefore, a record must fulfill both these criteria to be classified as an education record.

Miller and Hawkins: Breaking Down the Court Rulings

In Miller, the court determined that the video, while documenting an interaction between a teacher and a student, wasn't an education record. It contended that the footage primarily concerned the teacher's actions, not the student's, and therefore, didn't satisfy the "directly related" criterion of an education record.

In the Hawkins case, the video captured a dispute between a student and a parent, with no evidence to suggest the student was disciplined due to the recorded incident. Thus, the court concluded that the video didn't directly relate to the student, echoing the earlier ruling in Miller. Additionally, it found that the footage wasn't "maintained" by the school district – another requisite for a record to be considered an education record under FERPA.

Caution: Not Every School Bus Video is a Public Record

These court decisions have significantly narrowed FERPA's application to school surveillance videos, but not all such videos have been declared public records outside of FERPA's protections. A key factor remains the degree to which the video relates directly to the students involved and whether it has consequences for them. For instance, the Miller court differentiated its ruling from another case where a surveillance video captured a student altercation, which was directly related to the students' conduct.

Furthermore, the court decisions align with the Department of Education's guidance, which states that a video showing students fighting, used in disciplinary action, is directly related to the students involved. Additionally, if such a video or photo is kept in the students' disciplinary records, it is considered "maintained" by the district under FERPA.

Therefore, when faced with a RTKL request to release a video involving a student, school districts are advised to seek legal counsel. Determining if a video is an education record of a student under FERPA often involves complex, fact-sensitive considerations.

A Case of Use of Cameras in Special Education Classrooms

Unique Considerations in Special Education Classrooms

Special education classrooms have unique considerations when it comes to the use of indoor cameras. These classrooms often involve more personalized teaching methods and cater to students with a variety of needs. Consequently, the use of cameras in these settings must be carefully managed to ensure that they do not infringe upon the rights of these students.

In the article, "Bringing Legislation on Cameras in Classrooms Into Focus," authored by Maureen van Stone, Esq., MS; Mallory Finn, Esq.; & Alyssa Navarrete Thorn, Esq., a thorough examination of surveillance camera use in special education classrooms is undertaken. This compelling piece, available for public perusal at this link, offers crucial insights into the nuances and complexities of this contemporary educational issue.
Federal Laws: No federal law explicitly requires or prohibits cameras in classrooms, yet several federal laws, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), are relevant to this discussion.

FERPA: This federal law protects the privacy of students' educational records. It provides parents and legal guardians with rights related to their child's educational records, including access, review, amendment, and control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information. FERPA's applicability to surveillance footage hinges on whether the visual representation is directly or merely incidentally related to a student, a determination made on a case-by-case basis.

IDEA: Established to ensure all children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education, the IDEA adopts FERPA's definition of an educational record. As such, FERPA also applies to all students receiving special education and related services under IDEA.

Enacted State Laws and Policies: States have various approaches to the use of cameras in special education classrooms, with some having enacted relevant legislation, others rejecting such bills, and yet others with pending legislation. As of the article's publication, three states have enacted laws implementing video cameras with audio capabilities into special education classrooms, although the specific legislation differs in each state.

Detailed exploration of each state's policies and the IDEA are covered extensively in the article.

Case Analysis: Cameras in Special Education Settings according to policies of particular states:

A case that brings these issues to light is the use of surveillance cameras in a special education classroom in Texas. Parents were informed about the use of cameras, and while some were supportive of the measure for their child's safety, others were concerned about privacy issues. This case underscores the need for a careful balance between safety and privacy, particularly in special education settings.

Texas was the first state to enact comprehensive laws regarding the use of cameras in special education settings with Section 29.022 of the Texas Education Code enacted in 2015, and subsequently amended in 2017 and 2019. The key aspects are as follows:

  • Cameras are placed in special education settings only upon receipt of a written request from authorized individuals. These individuals include parents of a child who receives special education services, school board trustees or governing body, principal or assistant principal, or a staff member assigned to work with special education students.

  • Upon receiving the request, schools are obliged to install, operate, and maintain cameras in special education classrooms where a majority of students receive special education services for at least 50% of the instructional day.

  • Before installation, parents of students who regularly attend class in the setting where the camera is to be placed must be notified in writing.

  • Once installed, the cameras must be maintained for the remainder of the school year unless the requestor withdraws the request in writing. In case the school decides to discontinue the cameras, parents must be notified no less than five days before discontinuation. If no new request is received for the following year, the camera does not continue.

  • The resulting videos from the cameras must be stored for at least three months from the date of recording and cannot be regularly monitored unless there is a request for review.

The law allows the solicitation or acceptance of gifts, grants, and donations for the purpose of placing cameras, and restricts the use of these videos to promoting student safety only, prohibiting their use for teacher evaluation or any other purpose.

The Texas Association of School Boards provides a technical assistance guide to help local school systems in properly implementing this law.

In 2016, Georgia enacted the Landon Dunson Act, H.B. 614, named after a 10-year-old student with autism and cerebral palsy, to regulate cameras in special education classrooms. This legislation made Georgia the second state to address this matter. Key aspects of the law include:

  • The Georgia Department of Education is authorized to guide the placement of video monitoring cameras in self-contained classrooms where students receive special education services.

  • The Department can approve Local School Systems (LSSs) which already use video monitoring equipment in special education classrooms via an application process.

  • However, this law is not mandatory; the participation of a school or school system is at its sole discretion.

  • If a school or system decides to participate, they must meet certain minimum requirements:
    • Parents or guardians of students in the classrooms where cameras will be placed must receive prior notice.
    • Footage must be retained for no less than three months and no more than 12 months from the date of the recording.
    • Video coverage must be of all practical areas of the approved classrooms.
    • Procedures must be in place to protect the confidentiality of student records contained in the videos in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other relevant sections of the Official Code of Georgia.
  • The use of collected footage is limited to monitoring classroom instruction, interactions, and teacher observation.

  • The Georgia Department of Education serves as a point for any available state or federal funding for the implementation of these cameras.

  • LSSs are allowed to solicit and accept gifts, grants, and donations from any person or entity for the purpose of placing video monitoring cameras in classrooms.

West Wirginia
In 2019, the West Virginia legislature passed Senate Bill 632, which permitted the installation of cameras in special education classrooms. Effective from July 1, 2019, the law depends on state funds' appropriation from the Safe Schools Fund. The legislation mandates county boards of education to ensure video cameras' placement in self-contained classrooms, subject to legislative fund allocation.

In this context, a self-contained classroom refers to a public school classroom where the majority of regularly attending students receive special education instruction. Any implemented camera must record both audio and video in all areas of the special education classroom, excluding restrooms. Parents of students assigned to the classroom, school employees assigned to work in the classroom, and the county board must receive written notice of the recording.

Videos must be stored for three months after recording. If a request is made to view the video, it must be kept until the requester views it within 30 days. In case of an investigation, the video must be retained until the investigation is concluded, and all relevant appeals are exhausted.

The law prohibits using the captured footage for teacher evaluations or any purpose other than promoting the health, well-being, and safety of students receiving special education in a self-contained classroom. The law does not require continuous video monitoring; footage is reviewed in response to specific requests. Lastly, the statute outlines procedures for requesting and reviewing footage, consistent with FERPA.

Understanding Face Bluring Technology and Its Use in Schools

Face blurring technology, which anonymizes individuals in video footage, offers one way to reconcile safety and privacy. By obscuring students' faces in videos, schools can maintain the benefits of surveillance cameras while mitigating privacy concerns. Such technologies use algorithms to detect and blur faces, providing a practical solution to privacy concerns in school surveillance.

There are several methods for face blurring available, each with its own pros and cons. Some schools may employ manual labor, but this approach is often expensive, time-consuming, and requires skills. AI-based cloud solutions can perform the task efficiently, but these may bring about privacy concerns as it requires transferring sensitive recordings to third-party servers. Server implementations of AI and "on edge" solutions built into cameras are alternatives, but they can be costly, require significant scale of operations, or may not work with existing camera infrastructure. The accuracy may also be compromised due to limited computing power in cameras.

On-premise solutions like the AI-powered desktop app Gallio PRO can offer an effective middle ground. This software operates 100% on premise, can be installed on a Windows or Mac machine, and can be used even by personnel with no technical knowledge or video editing skills. Although no AI technology is 100% accurate and may require occasional manual corrections, solutions like Gallio PRO, SecureRedact, Celanturand Brighter AI are continually improving, making them a worthwhile investment for schools.

Legal Requirements and Best Practices for Blurring Faces to Protect Student Privacy

To use face blurring effectively and in compliance with the law, schools must consider certain legal requirements and best practices. For instance, FERPA requirements regarding education records and privacy protections still apply. Additionally, schools must ensure that the technology is reliable and that the blurring cannot be easily reversed.

How Do You Blur Student Faces in a Video?

To blur student faces in a video, schools typically employ video editing software or specialized surveillance systems with built-in face detection and blurring features. These tools automatically detect faces in a video and apply a blurring effect, effectively obscuring the individuals' identities.

In addition to these, there are downloadable solutions such as Gallio PRO, which can be conveniently installed on a personal computer. Another alternative is the "on edge" solution built into cameras, though it has limitations as mentioned earlier.

Regardless of the method used, all these automated solutions save time and money, and are becoming more efficient over time. Importantly, most of these solutions do not use or store biometric information, thus they align with legal requirements and protect the privacy of individuals in the footage.

The advent of selective redaction in these software solutions is a significant development. This feature is useful when a video contains several individuals, but there's a need to share the recording due to the behavior of one or two individuals. Here, regulations require the protection of privacy for everyone else, so the software can selectively blur only the unrelated individuals, leaving the subjects of interest clear.

Overall, implementing face blurring technologies in school surveillance systems is not just about privacy compliance, it's also about creating a safer and more secure learning environment for everyone.

Should CCTV Cameras Be Installed in Classrooms?

Whether CCTV cameras should be installed in classrooms is a complex question that requires careful consideration. While they can enhance safety and accountability, they can also raise privacy concerns and potentially affect the learning environment. Schools should weigh these factors and consult with stakeholders, including teachers, students, and parents, before making a decision.

Specific State Regulations

Is It Illegal to Have Cameras in Classrooms in California?

In California, the use of video surveillance in classrooms is generally permitted. However, schools must comply with privacy laws and regulations. For instance, audio recording without consent is prohibited, and the use of cameras in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, like bathrooms, is also not allowed.

Is It Illegal to Have Cameras in Classrooms in New York?

In New York, video surveillance in schools is also generally allowed, provided it complies with privacy laws and respects areas of reasonable privacy expectation. However, any use of surveillance technology in schools should be in line with the New York State Education Department's guidelines on school safety and the New York Civil Liberties Union's guidelines on student privacy.


The increasing use of monitoring cameras in schools has ignited a complex debate involving student privacy, family rights, and school safety. As technology continues to advance, schools must regularly reassess their surveillance policies and practices to ensure they comply with laws like FERPA and respect the rights of students and families. The challenge is not just to adapt to these changes, but to navigate them in a way that respects all stakeholders' rights and maintains a secure and conducive learning environment for students.

Legal Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. We are not legal practitioners, and as such, this article should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice. In each specific case, we strongly recommend consulting with a qualified lawyer to address your unique legal concerns and ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.