Please, no pictures

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By Jenna McKenna

In last week’s Levy County School Board meeting, Director of Curriculum Patrick Wnek presented this year’s changes to the Student Code of Conduct. Among those changes was a ban on using digital cameras, cellphone cameras or digital video recorders during the school day to capture images of teachers, staff or students without permission. This week, Wnek and Director of Administration Jeff Edison, who led the research on the updates, clarified the rule.

When asked what would constitute permission for a digital image to be captured, Wnek explained that there were really two parts to the problem. First, while wireless communication devices – cellphones, smartphones and wireless PDAs – are permitted on campus for students’ safety and parents’ peace of mind, they are not permitted to be turned on during the school day.

“If students need to call home, they can come to the office and use the phone there,” Edison said.

“Because of that,” added Wnek, “there is no permission to use a wireless phone or camera during the school day. You’re not supposed to even turn it on.”

The second part of the problem is permission. Most students in Levy County schools have signed photo releases in their files because public school students are subject to having their pictures taken and published. Some students, however, do not have photo releases, because of a parent or guardian’s legitimate safety concern on their behalf. School staff are aware of which students may not be photographed, and they will also stop visitors (such as newspaper reporters) from taking and publishing photos of unreleased students.

Beyond this concern is the fact that the small size of wireless devices makes it possible to conceal them and photograph people surreptitiously, and then instantly upload the image to the Internet.

“There are appropriate places to photograph people and inappropriate places,” Edison said.

“I would say that the locker room is an inappropriate place.”

Wnek noted that there are plenty of opportunities to use digital media during the school day.

“In the context of the classroom, under the supervision of a teacher, with an educational goal in mind,” he said, students could use digital cameras owned by the school for class-related projects.

Because the school is responsible for the safety of the students during the school day, the school, rather than the student, must be in control of photos being taken.

“There are a lot of good uses for this technology,” Wnek conceded, “but there are a lot of possible scenarios for misuse or abuse.”

“There’s a lot of potential for disruption,” Edison agreed.

“What if a student is taking pictures of another student, who doesn’t want their picture taken? They can ask for their picture to be deleted, but what if it isn’t? Students should be able to feel safe in school, and not have their privacy invaded.”

Edison said that students may use wireless camera phones to photograph after school activities such as sports, because participation in sports comes with an expectation that the student will be seen in a public place.