(TNS) -- When a Burlington middle-school principal was accused of kicking a student last school year, school officials were able to prove that the accusation was false by using footage from a hallway security camera.
But questions lingered. Could the principal — Mark Yeoman of Aldo Leopold Middle School — have used inappropriate language with the student?
If Yeoman had been wearing a body camera, he told Burlington Community School District officials at the time, the problem could have been avoided.
The district now is considering having principals do just that.
If a body camera policy makes it through a school board approval and public comment process this fall, the district could have one to three principals wearing the cameras in a pilot program next semester, Superintendent Patrick Coen said.
The cameras can help protect administrators from false accusations, hold them accountable for improper behavior, address biases in discipline and serve as a training tool, Coen said. Cameras only would be turned on in disciplinary situations, he added, and principals would have discretion as to when to turn off the cameras.
Trust in Schools
But the situation in Burlington also points to a declining trust in teachers, principals and other school officials, said two people familiar with the education climate in Iowa.
“A discussion with teachers or school administrators would indicate that, in general, parents are less cooperative, more suspicious, more accusing, than they’ve ever been,” said Ron Fielder, a clinical professor at the University of Iowa’s College of Education who runs the college’s superintendent-preparation program.
“I think they would tell you there is less trust for the professional educator on the part of parents than there has been in the past,” Fielder said. “And in my opinion, for no good reason.”
If a student and school official have differing accounts of an incident, Fielder said, parents now are more likely to believe their child.
“These are just becoming very difficult jobs because of dealing with parents that don’t ever want to admit that their child might be making a mistake or doing something wrong,” he said.
Galen Howsare, the deputy executive director and chief financial officer of the Iowa Association of School Boards, agreed. The association has not been in contact with Burlington school officials about body cameras but has been keeping tabs on the issue, Howsare said.
“We have moved away from that belief that the school official … however they told the story was the accurate story,” Howsare said. When Howsare was a child, he said, students were told, “Your teacher’s right, don’t tell me they’re not.”
A Harris Interactive survey conducted in November 2013 seems to reinforce that idea.
In the online survey, American adults of different generations were asked whether they thought parents and students respected teachers when they were children, and whether the same was true now.
Ninety-one percent of respondents said parents respected teachers when they were children, but only 49 percent said the same was true now.
And 79 percent said students respected teachers when they were children, while only 31 percent said the same was true now.
But BCSD’s Coen said he hasn’t seen a lack of trust between parents, students and school officials in Burlington.
“I believe that is a generalization,” he said. It’s not “that our society is necessarily degrading, as much as society is evolving.”
Rather, he said, the possible use of body cameras in schools reflects the widespread use of cameras in other places.
“If you go to an ATM, you’re being filmed,” Coen said. “If you walk into a business, you’re being filmed. All of our students have high-resolution (cellphone) cameras in their pockets.”
Quintin Shepherd, the superintendent of the Linn-Mar Community School District, agreed. The Linn-Mar district has not discussed the use of body cameras by school officials, he said, but a school security officer there wears one.
“I think the bigger cultural, community and national conversation will continue to help us identify what information we should have, what information we really need and whether or not there should be boundaries,” Shepherd wrote in an email.
Officials from the Solon Community and College Community school districts said their districts are not considering using body cameras. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City district officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The Burlington district has heard privacy concerns about using body cameras, Coen said. But he noted that schools have used security cameras in hallways and on school buses for years.
“We’re trying to take a tool and use it in the best interest of both parties, and to improve the process,” Coen said.
©2015 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.