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Kansas City Families, Teachers Balk at Putting Cameras in Classrooms

Faced with teacher shortages, district officials proposed adding cameras to classrooms in order to record and livestream lessons to other rooms. Teachers say this could harm learning, and students have privacy concerns.

Wyandotte High School
A student enters Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas.
The Kansas City Star file/TNS
(TNS) — Parents, students and teachers are urging the Kansas City, Kansas, school board to reject a proposal to spend nearly $6.8 million in federal COVID relief dollars to add cameras to classrooms.

District officials are proposing the idea as a stopgap measure during ongoing staff shortages. They say that adding the cameras would make it easier to livestream and record lessons to classrooms that are staffed with long-term substitutes or teachers who are not qualified in the subject area.

But teachers worry that would mean more students would be watching video lessons rather than learning from a qualified teacher in the same room, which they fear would harm learning.

And they are concerned that the cameras would make teachers and students feel like their privacy is being invaded.

“I am invested in Kansas City, Kansas. But I will leave if I have to be recorded on video and audio every day. I can’t work under those conditions,” kindergarten teacher Shalesha Parson said during a district forum Saturday morning.

Several questions remain unanswered. Teachers have wondered whether the cameras would be recording video and audio nonstop, which they worry would make staff and students feel constantly monitored.

Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said Saturday that the purpose of the cameras would be instruction. She said that the school board could consider adding into district policy that teachers would have control over when the cameras are recording, and from what angle. But specific policy language has yet to be decided until the school board considers the proposal later this winter.

Stubblefield said the district began exploring the idea of adding classroom cameras four years ago. At the time, officials were considering the move to increase surveillance and security at KCK schools.

But then came the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, worsening ongoing teacher and staff shortages in the Kansas City metro. Unable to fill enough teaching positions at the start of this year, the KCK district partnered with a company to hire some virtual teachers who livestream lessons to classrooms of students, while a staff member watches the kids in person.

The district says that it now has 84 unfilled teaching positions that are being covered by long-term substitutes or virtual instructors.

“I know there are kids on Monday who will not have a certified person provide instruction in math, science, reading ... That’s a reality for us,” Stubblefield said.

Administrators have proposed adding 1,600 cameras to classrooms. The proposal says teachers could use the cameras to record lessons, which could be streamed in other classrooms that do not have a qualified instructor. The videos also could be shared with students who are absent. And the cameras could be used for staff training or collaboration between classes.

“Our first priority will always be to have a certified teacher in front of all of our students,” Stubblefield said. “The reality is, we have openings.”

Stubblefield said that based on the feedback she has received, “there are some teachers who are compelled and want this. The majority do not.”


Some are concerned that having cameras in classrooms would create a less welcoming environment, potentially making staff feel like they are being constantly evaluated. The concerns come during an increasingly heightened political environment in schools, with parents challenging books and curriculum across the metro area.

Parson previously told the school board that staff “do not want to teach in a fishbowl. This tells us that we are not valued, trusted or respected as educators.”

Students worry that classroom cameras could make them feel like they are being policed, in an urban district that already has metal detectors, security officers and cameras in common spaces.

“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,” said Damarias Mireles, a 2020 Wyandotte High School graduate. “So it kind of adds to that stigma, even if it’s not the intention.”

While Stubblefield said surveillance could be a “byproduct” of having the cameras, she said the purpose would be for learning. She said video footage is currently only reviewed when a specific incident is reported.

Addressing privacy concerns, Stubblefield said that the school board could consider a policy that would allow teachers to have the ability to turn the cameras off or on as needed for instruction. She said teachers also could have control over whether the camera shows the instructor or entire class.

The school board, she said, will need to approve a new policy for the use of classroom cameras if the proposal moves forward.


Teacher Sheyvette Dinkens, with the Wyandotte High School Parent Teacher Student Association, argued KCK educators learned during COVID school closures that “remote learning and all those things don’t work. And we still have kids recovering from the pandemic.

“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,” she said. “So $6.7 million is a lot of money to spend when we already have so many other needs.”

The camera purchase could be 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 staff retention payments, nearly $5.8 million for student computers and technology, $3.5 million for HVAC units and $2 million for summer school teacher salaries.

Several teachers on Saturday said they would like to see the money used to upgrade technology, eliminate Wi-Fi dead zones in schools, increase teacher pay, hire more classroom aides or provide more mental health support for students and staff.

Many argued that using the money on classroom cameras would drive teachers out of the district, rather than helping KCK retain staff.

“I like my child’s teachers and I don’t want to see anything happen that deters them from staying,” parent Katie Black said on Saturday.

The KCK school board will discuss the proposal to add cameras to classrooms later this winter, and vote on whether to approve the idea or use the money in a different way.

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