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Forum Guide to the Privacy of Student Information
NCES 2006-805
July 2006

Surveillance Cameras

According to Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2005 (U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, 2006), schools continue to implement a variety of tools to improve safety and monitor activities. In fact, the report notes that "in 1999–2000, 14 percent of primary schools, 20 percent of middle schools, and 39 percent of secondary schools used one or more security cameras to monitor the school."

School cameras are typically placed in areas that do not infringe on students' right to privacy, such as classrooms, hallways, common areas, and building perimeters. However, recent reports of cameras in bathrooms have sparked a debate over the appropriate balance between student privacy rights and the need for school security. While FERPA does not specifically address, this issue, school systems should have a surveillance camera policy outlining the rights and responsibilities of students, teachers, administrators, and other school staff. As a best practice, the policy should include the following:

  • a clear statement of appropriate reasons for using surveillance cameras;
  • the role and responsibilities of individuals with access to the cameras;
  • who will have access to any footage;
  • how long will any footage be kept and how will it be destroyed; and
  • a consent provision.

For FERPA purposes, surveillance videotapes (or other media) with information about a specific student are considered education records if they are kept and maintained by the school system. If the school's law enforcement unit controls the cameras/videos and it is doing the surveillance for safety reasons, the ensuing videos would be considered law enforcement, rather than education, records. As soon as school officials use them for discipline purposes, however, the tapes become education records and are subject to FERPA requirements.

For more information, see Fact sheet 29: Privacy in Education (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2005) at http://www.privacyrights.org.
For more in-depth information on directory information, disclosure of student information, and annual notification to parents, see the Forum Guide to Protecting the Privacy of Student Information: State and Local Education Agencies (National Forum on Education Statistics, 2004).

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