Kansas City, Kansas, school officials on Tuesday threw out a plan to add cameras in every classroom, after teachers and parents overwhelmingly opposed the idea, with some threatening to leave the district over it.
Taking the feedback, district officials axed the proposal to spend nearly $6.8 million in federal COVID relief dollars to add the cameras. District officials had proposed the idea due to ongoing staff shortages, saying that cameras would make it easier for teachers to livestream and record lessons for classes that don’t have a qualified teacher.
In a survey of 1,480 district employees, nearly 90% said they were opposed to the idea. Many worried about harm to student learning, as well as privacy invasion and being constantly under surveillance.
Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said Tuesday the district is now instead studying the cost of adding cameras to common areas, such as auditoriums, gyms and libraries, as well as in a handful of classrooms where teachers are instructing classes remotely.
Board member Rachel Russell also suggested purchasing camera stands that could be checked out by teachers when needed for remote learning. Teachers, she said, “just didn’t want Big Brother watching them all the time.”
Member Wanda Brownlee-Paige agreed, saying the district needs to continue looking ahead to find solutions to ongoing teacher vacancies, “at a time where people aren’t running to major in education.”
“Whether we think it’s realistic or not, it may be the way of the future to have someone teaching via a screen. Whether we want it or not. It seems impersonal. But if we don’t have the manpower, we have to do what we have to do,” she said.
Stubblefield said that in March, the district will bring recommendations for purchasing cameras using federal COVID relief dollars, as well as ideas for how to spend the rest of the funding.
The initial proposal would have been one of the largest expenses the district would make using federal COVID-19 relief dollars provided to schools to address the pandemic’s effects. The district reported $82.5 million in planned expenses using the funds, including $40.5 million for bonuses to retain staff, nearly $5.8 million for student computers and technology, $3.5 million for HVAC units and $2 million for summer school teacher salaries.
Teachers fought against adding 1,600 cameras in classrooms, worried it would hurt academic achievement if more students would be watching video lessons rather than learning from a teacher in the same room.
“For me, I have 37 kids in a room. I have to be able to read the room to know where I am needed. That’s important as a teacher, to be able to see those social cues and see this person needs help, this person doesn’t understand. A camera can’t do that,” teacher Sheyvette Dinkens, with the Wyandotte High School Parent Teacher Student Association, previously told The Star.
Many also feared the cameras would make teachers and students feel their privacy is invaded, at a time when educators already feel under scrutiny during a heightened political environment in schools, with parents challenging books and curriculum across the metro area and nation.
And some students said they were concerned adding the cameras would make them feel constantly policed.
“A lot of us, maybe a lot of us minorities because we come from Black and Mexican households, we’re going to feel like, even though they’re telling us this is to learn, they’re actually trying to watch us. They’re trying to monitor our behavior,” Damarias Mireles, a 2020 Wyandotte High School graduate, said at a community forum last month.
Unable to fill enough teaching positions at the start of this year, the KCK district partnered with a company to hire some virtual teachers from out of state. They livestream lessons to classrooms of students on their computers, while a staff member watches the kids in person.
It’s just one of the many examples across the metro area of how districts have worked to educate students despite severe staffing shortages. Teachers have cited increased workloads, added stress, low pay and the tense political rhetoric around schools as reasons for considering leaving the profession.
“We can successfully run our schools and improve student achievement without cameras in the classroom,” kindergarten teacher Shalesha Parson previously told the school board. “We cannot run our schools with a bunch of empty classrooms and cameras when students and staff leave.”