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KCKPS classroom camera initiative faces criticism

<i>KCTV</i><br/>Kansas City
Kansas City

By Betsy Webster

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    KANSAS CITY, Kansas (KCTV) — Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools got a lot of pushback Tuesday night after proposing putting cameras in the classroom to expand virtual learning.

Several teachers spoke in opposition at the district’s school board meeting.

After a passionate public comment session, some board members contended it is such touchy subject that they should have a special meeting dedicated solely to this topic without the three-minute comment limit that applies in regular board meetings.

The board voted unanimously to do that.

Some KCK schools already have cameras in common areas and some classrooms. The proposal is to expand that district-wide with a focus on remote learning. The stated intent was to address unexpected student absences and a teacher shortage that has resulted in long-term substitute teachers staffing some classrooms.

Several teachers said the remote learning dominating the first year of COVID should have taught the administration that kids don’t learn by looking at a screen.

“We’ve tried that for a year and look what it did to our learners,” said teacher Carolyn Hummel. “They are more disengaged than they’ve ever been. They don’t know how to have conversations with their peers or to ask for help. Returning to virtual learning should not be an option for our students.”

“We are tired of the constant swinging pendulum of experimental educational trends,” said teacher Shalesha Parson. “Instead of making toxic workplace environments, let’s do better and focus on how to improve teacher morale and job satisfaction.”

The cameras in the $6.7-million proposal might not be billed as surveillance or security cameras, but there’s still concern about who’s watching and when.

“Constant monitoring creates a culture of fear and paranoia,” posited KCKPS employee Barbara Williams.

“We did not sign up to be actors putting on performance,” added Parson. “We want to build genuine relationships with our students. The classroom should be a safe place for teacher and student conversations.”

Dom Derosa, the president of the local teachers’ union, described the educational drawbacks he experienced working with cameras in the classroom in the past.

“They thought being on camera stifled their willingness to take chances with being wrong, or they felt they had to perform for the camera in ways that interfered with their learning process,” he explained.

Board member Rachel Russell shared concerns from parents, as well.

“As a parent, my children and other high school students enter a school building and walk through metal detectors every day,” Russell said, speaking for a parent. “And now cameras? When do our children get an opportunity to be a kid?”

Superintendent Dr. Anna Stubblefield said the board had the final say but made a point of remarking that children carry phones with cameras everywhere.

“I just want everyone to be clear, there are cameras in our classroom. Our students are recording. There are recording devices in the classroom. And that’s just the reality of what we live with today,” said Stubblefield.

The initial plan was to pay for the program with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, provided by the federal government to address the impact of COVID on schools.

The plan now is to set up a special meeting with no time limit that’s more heavily promoted to give more people a chance to weigh in publicly. Surveys will go out, as well.

No date has been set for that yet. The district will inform parents when that meeting is set.

KCTV5 will continue following this developing story and provide an update when that is scheduled.

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