Apr 292012

I’m probably one of the last people you’d ever expect to raise the “it’s for the children” argument for surveillance in schools, right?

But there’s a story out of New Jersey that’s all too familiar to me in my “irl” identity and work: disabled students are abused in school and because of their disabilities, cannot even communicate what’s going on to their parents.

I know of too many cases where kids were harmed by the abuse that is inflicted on them in school.  In some cases, the harm is physical. In other cases, the harm is emotional. In some cases, it’s both.

Some students with disabilities have been restrained in chairs “for their own good” for hours on end. Some have been sent to “time out rooms” because they were verbally disruptive in class (likely because they couldn’t communicate what was really bothering them).  Their parents – who may never have agreed to placing their child in the time-out room or physical restraint in a chair – often have no idea what could possibly be going on.

And some kids are arrested because of their symptoms and the school’s failure to learn how to handle them effectively and appropriately.

Some  kids come home from school with bruises and when parents inquire, they’re told their child is clumsy and fell. Other times, the kids come home from school and may be sad or angry but can’t tell the parent about all the verbal abuse they were subjected to during the day – from the very adults who should have helped them and been kind to them. Or they can’t communicate that they were thrown into a time-out/isolation room for part of their time.  Or that the bruise on their head is because they banged their head against the door of a time-out room in frustration and anguish.

Some have developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from their school experiences, and some have become suicidal.

The abuse of any student is despicable and unacceptable. Repeated abuse or maltreatment of disabled students warrants criminal charges, in my opinion.

But does the situation warrant in-school and/or in-class audiovisual surveillance – to protect the children?

Is this one of the exceptions for those of us who tend to argue against surveillance of children in school?

What do you think?

  6 Responses to “Commentary: Maybe we really do need surveillance – “for the children””

  1. There should be cameras in classrooms and hallways in all schools. Children often have a hard time letting anyone know they’re being bullied by other students. If they do tell, they’re either disbelieved or told to get over it. Imagine how hard it would be for those children to tell on an adult. It would be harder for the adult to believe such things of the ‘wonderful Mr. So-and-So’. Cameras should be put in place anywhere adults are in control of children and adults who can’t speak for themselves or who may be intimidated into silence. I hate the idea of cameras everywhere, but I don’t see a choice in this instance.

  2. We need to support children’s sousveillance and help them to watch those who should be watching over them. It is not about watching the children. As well, how that information will be viewed has to be considered. IF it is viewed with the child present (regardless of their ability to engage with it due to age or disability) they have a chance to indicate a response

    see Steve Mann, Jason Nolan and Barry Wellman. Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments. Surveillance & Society 1(3): 331–355

    and I just had a paper that takes up the need for children to have autonomy, though in a slightly different context.

    Nolan, J., Raynes-Goldie, K., and McBride, M. (2011). The Stranger Danger: Exploring Surveillance, Autonomy, and Privacy in Children’s Use of Social Media. Canadian Children Journal. (36)2, 24-32. (can be found on academia.edu)

    The point is that if you remove a child’s privacy and autonomy you’re damaging the child’s ability to develop to the best of his/her ability. However you can engage with the child (to the best of his/her ability) in the process of carrying out their own data collection about their environment and help them protect themselves.

    Well, you DID ask what I thought 🙂

    • If you endorse/implement sousveillance, then you are also capturing [audiovisual] on other children. And who will have access to those recordings? If it is only school personnel, then there will probably still be a cover-up of insider wrongdoing. If you allow the parents of students to view the recording, you run smack up against FERPA (in the U.S.) as the other students have privacy rights. So who will review the recordings with the student in your scheme?

      I have worked with kids where the parents (or their attorney) sent the child to school with a wire to record what was going on. In those cases, the child can actively participate in the sousveillance and review of any recordings. But there are many profoundly disabled kids who are not on that level. While I understand your points, let’s assume, for purposes of discussion, that the child will not be able to really participate in any meaningful way in reviewing any such recordings. In fact, let’s assume that the child does not even know that their clothing has embedded recording devices. Now what? Is this an acceptable invasion of privacy of other students – to protect the safety of one or all students? Is it an acceptable invasion of the student’s privacy to be chipped or wired without their knowledge if your purpose is to protect the child from what you suspect may be verbal abuse or mistreatment by a teacher?

      And if it’s acceptable to do this for classrooms of seriously disabled students, is it also okay to record in hallways? The cafeteria? The locker room? What about students who aren’t disabled but who may be bullied?

      And again, who should have access to the recordings and who shall have the right to determine whether recordings are deleted or when they should be deleted?

      This opens up a HUGE can of worms under U.S. privacy law.

  3. Similar case in MA: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/11/video-reveals-teens-electro-shock-torture-at-massachusetts-school/

    Massachusetts, of course, has a storied history of abusing the helpless, and opposing the release of footage documenting this abuse on privacy grounds: witness Wiseman’s Titicut Follies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titicut_Follies)

    More generally, there’s an extremely disturbing cultural undercurrent of Puritan blame aimed at those with developmental disabilities in the Northeast, which allows for these things to be kept well out of sight. I would prefer that they be eradicated by imprisoning the perpetrators and enablers, but inasmuch as judges are among them that seems unlikely. I’d likely go for filming in settings primarily dealing with those who can not be expected to report their own mistreatment. I am not sure how I feel about it in more mainstream environments.

    • The Judge Rotenberg Center case is interesting because they record everything there. And it was their own tape/recording that was so devastating to them in the recent civil lawsuit. But yes, there are many children there who would not be able to communicate what was being done to them and tapes are crucial to their protection – but only if the legislature and courts decide that torture in the name of “treatment” is still torture.

    • Was reading news this morning and came across this story from Sweden that involves a mainstream environment but very young children: http://www.thelocal.se/40586/20120502/

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