Can a Parent View School Surveillance Tapes?

With the many incidents of violence in schools, some school districts have turned to video surveillance cameras for student safety 1. The cameras also allow schools to monitor students and staff for security reasons and to maintain high quality environments in the classroom. As a parent, tapes of your child may provide insight on an incident that involves him. You can formally request to view school surveillance tapes that directly include your child 1.

Reasons for Surveillance

There are several reasons for video surveillance in schools, including security issues, monitoring the activity of teachers and students, preventing incidents such as violence or inappropriate behavior between students or staff, vandalism and theft, according to the national school superintendents organization AASA 1. In some school districts, video cameras may also be placed on school buses. However, cameras are not allowed in places that would violate a student's right to privacy, such as in a washroom and locker or change-room for gym class.

Privacy Issue

The advocacy site Wrightslaw notes that school administration may claim that a parent cannot see school surveillance tapes because it would violate the privacy of another child 1. However, as there is no law that prevents a parent from knowing the identity of other children in their child's class or school, this argument is invalid. Additionally, parents are allowed to attend school events and field trips. Hence, if the parent would like to see surveillance videos of their child, this is a reasonable request in most cases and should not be denied due to privacy issues.

Federal Law

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is the federal law that governs educational records and surveillance in schools 2. According to FERPA, images of students captured on a school's security tapes are not considered educational records. Hence, these tapes are not private and may be shared with the parents of the students. The AASA site clarifies that, in 2004, the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office stated that if more than one student is on the tape, all parents must consent to disclosure. However, more recently, the compliance office informally stated that a parent of any directly involved student would be allowed to view the footage, but not permitted to receive a copy unless the other parents gave consent.

Requesting to View Tapes

In some cases, school administration may not permit a parent to view footage of their child. This may be because they feel there is no reasonable ground for doing so, or because they fear it may open a case against the school. If your child is under disciplinary action, has been a victim of assault or another crime or if you feel viewing the tapes may be beneficial for your child, you can request to view them. Send a polite letter stating your request and reasons for doing so to the principal or school board. If your request is not met, you can contact FERPA via email to ask it to intervene on your behalf.

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