Protect Student Privacy From School Bus Security Video Systems

Protect Student Privacy From School Bus Security Video Systems

In today’s world of data and computer systems, protecting the private personal information of individual citizens has become a major source of budgets and IT departments for many industries. When it comes to protecting the identity or Personal Identifying Information (PII) of a minor, the law mandates that children’s privacy be protected at all times.

Schools and entire school districts are now faced with handling the often complex and difficult IT and data systems that control the information collected on students for their educational records or school security. School budgets are extremely tight and the expense of having entire departments dedicated to redacting (blacking out) and entering the different forms of data that a school would have associated with an individual student’s record can break a school system.

Often the solution is to have the school district or authority join a comprehensive integrated data system (IDS) that is specifically designed to handle the sophisticated labyrinth of information, the authorization for release of data, and the security and maintenance of the entire server. This is the ideal solution for cost savings allowing schools to focus their budgets on other areas of teaching. The school administration would still need to have some IT personnel to handle redaction and data entry to the system, but the warehousing of information reduces the workload significantly.

Schools and FERPA

School administrations are being dealt a tremendous blow to their budgets as they attempt to conform to an ever-changing society where the Federal Department of Education has enacted privacy laws that are in constant flux due to the department’s inability to clarify the laws. Before 2018, the Department of Education was clear that if information on other students could not be redacted (blacked out), then the school could not share that information with the parent of another student. Since the laws cannot clearly define every possible scenario, including situations when multiple students are involved in acts of violence or mischief, the department has taken another approach, but still not being clear about what applies to FERPA law, and what does not.

The department’s current position is to inform schools that if a parent requests information or video regarding an incident, to disclose only the portion that would fully depict their own child’s involvement in the incident. If multiple students are in the video or written material, then the department suggests a few options.

One basic option would be to redact (blur) the faces or PII of the other students so that the parents can see only their own student’s participation. If this is not feasible, then a second approach would be to have a meeting with all parents of the students involved, with each signing consent to allow the material to be viewed. Some schools may opt to have parents meet individually or as a group and view the video together so remedies or other actions may be discussed.

The last option provided by the department is that in the instance that it is impossible to redact (blur) video or blackout written material of other students’ PII without losing meaning or context, these materials would not need to be handed over at all. FERPA allows parents to review the material in a controlled setting in which they have the right to inspect and review the video or other student records only.

School Bus Video Systems

School busses with security camera or video security systems can put student privacy at risk.

School bus video systems have been installed in many districts to protect students and bus drivers. There has been much speculation as to whether these videos meet the requirement of FERPA to be considered technically part of the student’s educational record. This law under FERPA has also been left undefined.

Both parents and educators have been left to wade through hurdles of red tape as they attempt to comply with the privacy laws that have no room for circumstances or the emotional responses of families. In the case of surveillance videos, which are there for the student’s safety as well as school security, if an incident occurs such as two students fighting, FERPA laws do not feel the emotional brunt of parents seeking answers – educators do. How can a school administrator face a parent who is looking to get video documentation of the conflict to sue for damages in case of injury and still have to follow FERPA laws by denying access?

In 2015, a judge for the Utah Court of Appeals explained that there was no clarification used by the Department of Education’s plain language of the statutory limits that FERPA applies to only educational records. The ruling upheld a previous court’s decision that a father who requested video footage of an incident his son would be allowed the footage, as long as he paid for the redaction services as required by the school district.

FERPA and Bus Videos

Parents, students, educators, administrators, and the legal system have been arguing for both sides of the privacy issue when it comes to school bus videos. Parents have realistic concerns if their child has been harmed or injured by another student and feel as though they are denied access. Administrators are doing their best to comply with undefined legal rules and maintain their school budgets. Educators feel caught in the middle, while lawyers and judges argue the finer points of both sides of the issue.

The Department of Education has come to terms with attempting to make things a little clearer. The department’s position on video surveillance and student privacy blankets all use of video footage, be it in the classroom, hallway, exterior security footage, and bus video systems. Bus video systems have become quite a controversy, beyond just the administration needing to put forth the additional effort to redact (blur) the faces of other students to allow a parent access to one student’s record.

In 2013, in Aurora, Ohio school district opted to install bus video surveillance for the students’ safety. While every state can have stricter guidelines than the federal FERPA laws, the school superintendent explained that the recordings would be made viewable by the administration in the event of an incident, but most minor infractions of bus rules were still handled by the bus drivers. The school district also went on to explain that while these videos were used primarily for disciplinary actions, the videos would not be made available to the public due to FERPA guidelines.

A former Student Press Law Center executive director, Frank Lamonte, argued against this point. His interpretation of the FERPA laws is that they would not cover student behavior on the bus as students are in public view while riding. His opinion is that the Department of Education has already stated that what a child looks or sounds like is not a secret, which is why parents are allowed to volunteer in classroom settings. The identity of the students and their appearance are not confidential on public streets. He noted that schools that follow this guidance are more apt to provoke legal disputes including affirmative rights, which include the right to have an administrative hearing to verify the validity and correctness of the student’s record.

Best Practices for Student Privacy

The best policy for schools is to follow FERPA guidelines to the fullest at all times. Regardless of the circumstances, emotions, or prevalent attitudes, failing to protect a student’s privacy can cost a school district money that it doesn’t have to lose. The Department of Education clearly stated its ruling on buses when attempting to resolve the question about using the same recorded image for more than one student’s educational record under the FERPA rules.

The department answered that a single recorded image could become more than one student’s record when more than one student is clearly in the image or video. They went on to more clearly define it by saying that if a bus surveillance video shows two students fighting, for example, and the school uses this for security and to maintain discipline among the students, then yes, it can be part of two students’ records. Their definition goes on to state that the bus surveillance would then be “directly related to” and part of both student’s educational records.

Redaction Software

Even if the school district is part of an integrated data system, keeping a full IT team of video redaction staff is not cost-effective for most school budgets. Having a quality video redaction software system that is designed to help schools easily follow the FERPA rules and regulations can save countless hours of personnel time and allow better budget spending.

CaseGuard video redaction system is easy to use and could be used by trained office staff and administration for fast results. When schools are faced with FOIA, legal, or other requests, many times there is a defined amount of time for the turnaround of the redacted (blurred) video. Being able to meet FERPA guidelines, and being able to handle the job easily are extremely important. Using a quality video redaction system also means there is less room for human error when even a single frame can be left out to affect the release of PII.

The Benefits of Using Video Redaction Software

The key benefits of using a superior video redaction system to ensure student privacy for school districts can be:

With all these benefits and the ability to stay current and within the legal boundaries set forth by the Department of Education’s strict student privacy FERPA laws, school districts should not be without it.

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