Cameras in the classrooms and an armed officer in every school building – could changes be coming to area schools?

August 30 – As Bob Dylan said back in the 1960s, the times they are a-changing – and it’s true today in just about every aspect of life. 

Schools might be one of the biggest areas of change. 

The Frederick County Board of Education is looking at the idea of putting cameras in the special education classrooms. 

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM suggested, “Cameras should be in every classroom. The teachers should want that. Here, your kids acting up or here’s what’s happening in my classroom, hit the playback and see exactly what’s happening here.”

The Frederick County Board of Education is saying the cameras would be an effort to protect teachers and students who maybe can’t communicate very well. 

Ryan pointed out, “If you’ve got cameras in your doggy daycare, there’s no reason why you can’t have cameras and audio in the classroom. It’s an idea that time is well overdue on putting cameras in there. I want accountability. You want accountability. I’m paying the freight here, you’ve got the infrastructure, light the cameras up and let me see what’s going on here.”

Attorney Clint Barkdoll added, “Particularly in the area of Special Ed classrooms, this is something you’re seeing more and more of. There have been some dangerous situations in those classrooms. Students that maybe do something that is abusive towards the teacher, or we’ve heard the reciprocal stories too, where a teacher does something that may be out of bounds with the student. That’s the idea of these cameras. It’s also one of these issues that I think you see support on all sides of the equation, teachers unions, parents, and it’s really there to protect everybody because the board knows those Special Ed classrooms, in particular, can be difficult environments. So I think it’s a good idea. I suspect they will pass it. If nothing else, they’ll do it on a pilot basis. It’s really there for everyone’s protection, the student, the teacher, the district in general.”

Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez said, “I don’t see the cameras being an issue. I think that they help keep people safe and accountable. But then I think about it too, if you’re a teacher in instructional time, does that cause you to be more engaged because you know someone’s watching? I think about that as a politician. The more people watching, I feel like the more I’m concerned and the more anxious I could be. That would be my only concern is that you have people that are watching. It’s not because you’re doing a bad thing, but because you’re anxious because you know someone’s watching you. You have test takers like that, that are perfect, but then they get to the test and they’re so anxious that they fail. That would be my only concern.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM noted, “It’s a thoughtful discussion to have because the net negative, net positive I guess is what we would have to come down on, but you’re right. That’s why certain courtrooms allow cameras, certain ones they don’t. People worried about C SPAN and would lawmakers act differently if they know they’re being watched? I think you look at the net positive net negative. My feeling is for Special Ed, it totally makes sense because you’ve got kids who wouldn’t necessarily be able to communicate if something bad was being done. Maybe in the teaching atmosphere, it might be the kind of thing where it’s there. It’s archived, but not regularly watched. Just, if an incident happens we’ll be able to look at it to see and make sure we have the most objective on top of the facts of the situation. So I think there could be some ways to use it that’s not putting that kind of pressure on what you’re talking about, which I think is accurate. People can act differently and not necessarily because of doing anything bad but is this inhibiting in a different way that makes the teaching not as good or the courtroom not as good?

Martinez said, “I think about it with policing. I don’t think that because the body cams are on that it causes a thing with police. I think that it’s the anxiety of knowing everything. You talk to officers in their mind, they’re overly policing themselves and overly trying to do things correctly. That then causes a misstep because there’s no authenticity.”

Ryan said, “Doesn’t that go back to training? You’re trained as a teacher, you’re trained as a police officer. I talked with the chief at the fire department in Chambersburg and he talked about training they’re always going through. It’s not sitting in front of TV, it’s not sitting on the sidelines waiting for the bell to ring. We’re training, we’re constantly evaluating our skills and sharpening them and if your skills are sharp, let the camera roll. It should tell you how well you’re trained and how well you’re treating your people and the people that you are accountable to.”

Martinez said, “That’s the key word, training. You can’t just throw money at things and you can’t just do things without properly educating and training and that’s where the lack of information. If you just put cameras in school, and you don’t train teachers or talk with them about their own anxieties or different things, then I think that it causes more issues. I just think that the conflict happens because of lack of information, lack of training, and lack of communication. That’s it. It’s not that it’s not needed. It’s just that people are getting the proper training around what is needed.” 

Another thing that some folks think is needed in schools is armed staff. Pennsylvania Senator Mike Regan from York introduced a bill yesterday that would mandate at least one armed person be in every school building in Pennsylvania. It’s Senate Bill 907. 

Ryan said, “We know how much the present administration and previous administration are at the altar of the teachers unions, probably have no path to get signed into law. Given Shapiro who can’t even help out the poorest of poor families in the worst performing Pennsylvania schools. If you’re not going to protect those people, why would you want to protect any of the rest of them?”

Barkdoll said, “This has been kicked around before. I agree with you, it’s not going to pass. I don’t think the votes are going to be in the House to pass it. I don’t think Governor Shapiro would support it. There’s merit to this idea. One of the criticisms you’ll hear in Pennsylvania is remember, we have 500 school districts. You’ve got districts in rural areas, like in the northern part of the state, western PA, you might have a school with maybe 100, 150 students in it and the districts will always push back. We don’t have the financial resources to have a school resource officer in the building. Now this bill would not necessarily mandate an SRO. Presumably, a teacher or a school official could be the certified person to carry the weapon. But again, I just don’t see it getting to the finish line. I think it’s an interesting proposal. It’s going to get a lot of debate, but I don’t see this passing.”