Imagine a teacher giving a history lesson to sixth-graders as a camera pans the room. On a computer screen miles away, parents watch to see if their kids are paying attention.
“This [will be] a common thing in education. It’s going to happen sooner or later,” said New Hampshire gubernatorial hopeful Jeff Howard, a Republican.
Howard wants to put cameras in New Hampshire classrooms to allow parents to monitor their children via the internet. He hasn’t analyzed the cost statewide, though he has contacted corporations that might be willing to sponsor the program on a pilot basis in certain schools.
For the past few years, some day-care centers and private schools around the countryincluding ones in Tennessee, Texas, California, Connecticut, and Ohiohave been using web-based cameras to let parents watch their children. Howard’s plan is among the first suggested for public K-12 schools, however.
His opponents in the New Hampshire governor’s race are uneasy about the proposal.
“It smacks of Big Brother,” said Republican hopeful Fred Bramante. “If there were issues regarding discipline, this may be necessary, but I think having 25 or 30 parents watch what’s going on is asking for some problems.”
Republican hopeful Gordon Humphrey said he proposed an idea similar to Howard’s during a television debate in Derry earlier this year. He said he changed his mind during the drive home.
“It occurred to me that there is really no security on the internet,” Humphrey said. “If hackers can break into the Pentagon, there’s no real security.”
New York-based ParentWatch, which has installed the camera and computer equipment in 110 child-care centers in more than 30 states, gives parents user identification codes and passwords to keep unauthorized people out of the system.
Many companies also charge membership fees to parents, relieving schools and states of the cost of the technology.
“Our system is pretty much for peace of mind,” said Joel Gantcher, senior director of business development at ParentWatch. “Privacy and security issues are all considered.”
He noted that his system has only been sold to day-care centers, not public schools.
“I think it’s a little different in the child-care space,” Gantcher said. “Children four and under aren’t really aware of the cameras.”
Howard’s opponents in the New Hampshire governor’s race argue that cameras in the classroom would be too costly and would be an invasion of student and teacher privacy.
“There are two problems with Jeff’s idea,” said Judy Reardon, a spokeswoman for incumbent Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat. “One is that the parents whom he is trying to reach are the parents least likely to have home computers. Secondly, the governor thinks it could be counterproductive.”
Reardon said that “if the purpose is to help with school discipline, having cameras in the classroom is just as likely to cause kids to act up as it would be to engage parents to discipline their children.”
State Sen. Mark Fernald, D-Sharon, who also is running for governor, said the plan won’t be cheap and won’t make parents feel closer to their children’s education.
“I’m not sure anybody really wants to throw our classrooms into a video fishbowl,” Fernald said.
Besides expressing privacy concerns, Connie McKenna, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), thought the idea of spending money to install cameras in classrooms was ironic, since so many schools need more money just to pay for day-to-day operations.
“The parents will probably see leaky pipes, classrooms without air conditioning in June, teachers teaching without textbooks,” McKenna said. “Maybe if people could see what bad condition schools are in, it might help.”
The AFT recommends that parents who want to know what is going on in their children’s schools volunteer, since being there is the best way to see what is happening and to develop a relationship with teachers.
Howard, for his part, is standing by his proposal. He said he is encouraged by the debate that has been raised.
“If there is a will to have a program like this in place, there is funding available,” he said. “I believe this program can be funded through private donations on a pilot basis.”
There are many questions that still need to be answered, he said. But he noted that internet access to the classroom would be no different than allowing parents to come in and visit their kids.
“By the time this program is viable … technology and cost issues are going to be so different than they are today,” he said. “What I want to do is get the debate started.”
Jeff Howard for Governor
Fred Bramante for Governor
Gov. Jeanne Shaheen
State Sen. Mark Fernald
American Federation of Teachers