Administrators to Start Wearing Body Cams in Iowa School District

By Abigail Wilkinson | July 17, 2015 | 12:14pm EDT
Body cameras that will be worn by administrators in Iowa's Burlington Community School District during the 2015-2016 school year. (Burlington Community School District)

(CNSNews.com) -- Starting this fall, administrators in the Burlington Community School District in southeastern Iowa will start wearing body cameras to monitor interactions during “private meetings” with parents and students.

“The goal of the new policy is to ensure all parties are being treated with dignity, honor, and respect at all times,” District Superintendent Patrick Coen stated in the district’s official statement announcing the new policy on July 7.

“The cameras are another tool we have at our disposal to ensure we are providing a safe, productive environment for our students, teachers, and staff.”

The school district spent about $1,100 on 13 cameras, according to The Des Moines Register. The small, clip-on devices are intended to be regularly worn by principals and assistant principals in schools throughout the district, which has a total student population of about 4,300 students.

According to the statement, “the District feels the cameras will protect everyone, while also holding administrators accountable for their behavior.”

“Administrators will have a script to read, prior to turning on the device, informing the person of the intent to record the conversation and giving them the option to decline recording,” the statement added in a nod to privacy concerns.

CNSNews.com asked Jeremy Tabor, Burlington Community School District’s director of human resources, to clarify this new policy.

It’s still being developed, he replied. “How prudent is it to ask an eight-year-old, ‘Can we record this conversation?” Tabor continued. “But yes, the intent is to give individuals the opportunity to say, no, they don’t want a conversation recorded.

“We want our administrators to be able to use their judgment, in terms of understanding when and where they should not record a conversation to protect someone’s privacy,” he added.

The cameras will be used to record private disciplinary meetings, as well as “general interactions in common areas” if administrators deem it necessary, Tabor said. The school district wants to limit the recording of private conversations to “things that would normally become part of a student record.”

The recordings will be uploaded at the end of each day, and the video files will only be retained if determined necessary by the administration.

The district’s statement points out that all of the district’s school buildings already have security cameras “monitoring the hallways, cafeterias, and playgrounds” as well as school buses.

The initial call for body cameras came from Mark Yeoman, the principal at Burlington’s Aldo Leopold Middle School, who was accused of assaulting a student during the past school year. However, footage from security cameras in the school’s hallways proved that the student’s accusation was false.

“Video evidence showed Mr. Yeoman did not commit the alleged act, but the current cameras in use are only able to capture images, not audio, making it virtually impossible to investigate allegations of verbal misconduct,” Coen’s statement said.

“In any given situation, if you have accurate information available, you can make the best decision on how to address that situation if something was handled inappropriately,” Tabor told CNSNews.com

“So if there’s a complaint of any sort, whether it’s a student behaving inappropriately, an administrator behaving inappropriately, and we have the ability to go back and understand exactly what happened in the situation, we’re going to be able to address it properly,” he said.

“That’s the intent and that’s the goal of leveraging the cameras.”

But Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio-based consulting firm that specializes in school security, believes that the body cams will be detrimental to student-faculty relationships.

School administrators "are not making traffic stops on isolated city streets and dark back alleys," Trump said on his blog. "They are working with children - typically the same student body day after day - in a child-oriented setting, i.e., a school....

“Decades of school safety research and experience point to 'relationships' between students and adults as one of, if not the most critical factors for strengthening school safety,” he noted. “At a time when overloaded educators don’t have enough time as is to get to know their students, the last thing we need is another obstacle to doing so.”

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