Creating A Camera Use Policy

Creating A Camera Use Policy

K-12 schools benefit from transparency

The past decade has seen a cultural shift, where concerns over personal privacy have gradually taken a back seat to those of security. The presence of surveillance systems in our K-12 schools is a prime example of this. Whether or not students and teachers like it, cameras are now commonplace in schools. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that as of the 2013-2014 school year, 75 percent of public schools reported having surveillance cameras in place.1 Today, three years later, I’m sure the number is even higher.

Working for a surveillance solutions manufacturer, it is my observation that almost all schools that are installing cameras are doing so both inside and outside their buildings. Inside the schools, cameras are being installed in hallways, lobbies, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and other general assembly areas—locations that aren’t considered private. However, on occasion, I encounter resistance from a K-12 customer who is uncomfortable with putting cameras inside the school as a result from pushback from teachers, parents and students. While I understand why people may be worried about misuse of video and the potential for privacy infringements, proper transparency and communication from school administrators work to win supporters.

An important step is for schools to create a clearly articulated “use policy” for their surveillance systems. Unfortunately, too few do so. A 2015 Report by the Massachusetts ACLU reports that in a survey it conducted of fourteen districts, all reported using in-school surveillance cameras, but only one had an openly posted policy of how they were used.2 That is a small sample, but I believe it is representative of a larger trend.

Putting together a use policy is not difficult. You might consult a lawyer to compose the exact wording of the document, but qualified systems integrators and manufacturers should be able to provide guidance on issues that need to be addressed, including how cameras should be installed, managed and monitored. Here’s what needs to be covered:


A clear description of the system’s purpose may seem obvious, but it should be front and center of any policy statement. In general, it should state that the intention of the system is to foster a safe and secure environment for students, staff and school visitors, as well as to protect property from theft and/or vandalism.


Camera placement should be limited to public areas and they should never be placed in bathrooms, locker rooms or other locations where individuals presume a sense of privacy. As for classrooms, most schools are not putting cameras there, as teachers’ advocacy groups have strongly argued against it. One exception is Texas, where a law went into effect last year that mandates the use of cameras in classrooms where the majority of instruction is for students with special education needs.3

While it is not necessary to publicly identify the location of each and every camera, schools should post signs at the entrances to all district facilities alerting the public that the property is under surveillance. This makes sure that anyone coming or going is aware of the existence of cameras and that, alone, can serve as an effective deterrent.


A school’s decision of whether to monitor video live, or simply record it, may be based on a variety of factors, but I’m a big proponent of using a video system to its fullest extent, and that means doing both. Recorded video can be used for post-incident forensics, but live monitoring can help eliminate or prevent certain events from happening in the first place.

A monitoring policy should identify who has access to the video on a live and recorded basis, and what they are able to do with that video. Many larger districts now have their own police force, and they are the ones responsible for viewing the video. Administrators, from principals on down, also typically have access.

Most well-developed surveillance systems keep an internal log of who signed in, their level of authorization, and the specific actions they took within the system. This auditing capability eliminates the need for keeping a manual log and can provide assurances that access to the system is not abused.


If a school intends to share video with the local city or county police, they should broadcast that policy when the video system is put in place, stating conditions under which the police may be given live access or provided with recorded evidentiary video. If those policies aren’t established up front, before an incident takes place, then when something does happen and the police want to review video, they need to go through the legal process of subpoenaing it. Plan ahead for this possibility; it will save you time and frustration later on.


Schools should define the length of time for which they will store video in their system. I recommend somewhere between 60 and 90 days. With that length of a window, the school will generally have heard about any incidents and had time to investigate and archive any relevant video. Keeping video longer than three months can become prohibitively expensive and really isn’t necessary.

The public should also feel confident that the network and devices on which the video is stored are secure. Like all systems, the surveillance software should have strong password protection and the school should have policies in place to make sure that only the right people are logging in. Many of today’s security systems integrate into Microsoft’s Active Directory, meaning that IT administrators can quickly and easily disable log in credentials when employees leave the organization.


Once you’ve put together a “use policy,” make sure that it’s available to the community. Include it in student handbooks, staff handbooks and on your website. I also recommend reviewing it annually to make sure that it remains accurate and appropriate for your current needs.

Today’s administrators are under great pressure to make sure that they are doing everything they can from a security standpoint, even when some decision they make aren’t popular. Creating a “use policy” can play an important role in assuring all stakeholders that surveillance cameras installed to enhance security will be used respectfully and responsibly.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

Digital Edition