Why Zoom Cameras Don’t ALWAYS Need to Stay On
By SHANE MASTERSON | Contributing Writer
With the drastic and immediate shift to Zoom classes last spring, students found themselves opening up their homes to public view for the first time, and many were uncomfortable about this.
While teachers and some students contest that cameras should stay on during classes to indicate attendance and work ethic, many students believe that cameras staying on is an unnecessary aspect of learning that may invade students’ privacy and even have legal implications on teachers that carry out such rules with their classes.
For instance, many PE teachers require cameras to stay on, citing attendance and proof of the exercises students are performing. Lots of other teachers urge students to keep their cameras on for similar reasons. But students have also given reasons to keep their cameras off, for reasons such as personal privacy.
I, for one, side with said students on this matter. I believe that if a student is uncomfortable revealing their home or anything else, they should have the choice to keep their cameras off, in accordance to the Fourth Amendment, which is not constitutionally limited in this case.
By my interpretation, students—and ALL American citizens—have the right to protect their privacy when it comes to searches, and they have the right to deny anyone a look inside their home—unlike at schools, where unwarranted searches are lawfully protected with reasonable suspicion, there is no reasonable suspicion to search someone’s home. This means that requiring cameras to be on could be a legal concern to teachers and the school at large.
In an ideal situation, cameras would just be a tool to see your teachers and connect with your classmates. But what if you don’t have good living conditions? What if your Wi-Fi isn’t good enough or it stresses the bandwidth too much? What if a student has special needs? What if a student is using a device without a camera for whatever reason?
These little conditionals can change whether a student wants their camera to stay on—or stay off.
What I think is the best idea for the school and the student body is to require cameras when appropriate. By this, I mean if a student is using a digital background or just against a blank wall, the camera can stay on—at that point there isn’t a reason to keep it off. However, if something like this isn’t available and the student is expressly uncomfortable, they must be able to refuse the camera staying on if there is a plausible reason.
While I can see attendance being a legitimate concern, many teachers simply have students answer a question or two in the middle of class or ask students to put their names in chat as a quick attendance test. This works much better than constantly scrolling through students to see who has their cameras on.
And let’s be honest—how is a teacher going to realistically see every student as to whether or not their cameras are on during the duration of the class? It’s an unrealistic expectation on everyone’s part.
However, this article is more about the students that feel uncomfortable with their cameras staying on than anyone else—and I think that they should be accommodated for, even if they are a small minority. For many, keeping a camera on just isn’t an option, and there are so many reasons why as I listed earlier that we can’t discount.
Ideally, cameras should be on for the entire class. But idealism isn’t realism, and there are people who feel uncomfortable showing their faces or homes to their entire class.
The majority of students would be fine keeping their cameras on—but we should account for everyone. There are so many conditionals that impact whether or not someone can keep a camera on that a camera mandate in some way is an overall bad idea.
Kids need to have the choice to keep their privacy safe if they believe that it is appropriate for them to do so. Sure, you’ll have the “Reconnecting…” kids every once in a while. But for kids that have genuine reasons to keep cameras off? Let them.
This piece was originally published in The Town Crier, October 2020, and has been reprinted here with permission.
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