New State Law Complicates Classroom Recording For N.H. School Districts

Nov 11, 2015

Credit www.audio-luci-store.it on Flickr Creative Commons

A new state law limiting when schools can record in classrooms is having unintended consequences for some New Hampshire school districts.

The law was aimed at protecting the privacy of teachers and students, but school officials say the added regulations have made it more difficult to film classrooms for legitimate reasons.

Priscilla Morrill is a reporter for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

She joined NHPR's Morning Edition to talk about her reporting on this issue.

What are some the reasons schools would want to film classrooms?

It’s often part of an IEP, or Individualized Educational Program, for some students with learning challenges, so that’s part of it. But what we’re learning is that video in the classroom has become quite commonplace in some school districts. They’re using it to film their choirs, their plays. They’re using it for educational purposes to review materials. They’re using it in cases where children are homebound for some reason and don’t want to get behind in their school work.

This new law went into effect in August. What changed?

It says, “No school shall record in any way a school classroom for any purpose without school board approval after a public hearing, and without written consent of the teacher and the parent or legal guardian of each affected student.” So that’s brand new.

That is new, but schools for years have had to get permission to record or take photographs in classrooms before, didn’t they?

Yes, but now you have to have a public process. You have to have a public hearing and school board approval for each type of use.

What’s been the impact on school districts? Have they just stopped recording?

The Wilton-Lyndeborough School District has put a moratorium on filming in the classroom for now because there has been so much confusion about what the law’s actually saying. And we’ve heard that elsewhere, as well. The New Hampshire School Boards Association has taken multiple phone calls on this issue and they’ve consulted numerous lawyers, but the interpretations have been so varying. School boards have a hard time figuring out what the law means and what the law requires. There’s a vagueness there.

You spoke with the authors of the bill that led to this change in law. What was their reaction?

I spoke with the prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican. He said he was completely taken aback by how widely this bill has been interpreted. His motivation was very specific actually. He wanted to protect teachers and students from recording for the purpose of teacher evaluations. He wanted teachers to have the ability to consent to that, as well as the parents of the students in the class who may somehow end up in these recordings.

What are the proposed changes to this regulation?

He’s really changing the language significantly. The new language would read, “No school shall record in any way a classroom for the purpose of teacher evaluations without school board approval after a public hearing and without written consent of the teacher and parent or legal guardian of each affected student.” It also states that nothing in the bill shall preclude the use of audio or video recordings for students with disabilities for students with IEPs, in accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or for general education purposes. So here we get some specifics we’re really looking for, but you have no idea how the Legislature is going to act.