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Alarms ringing! Scrambling out of bed! Rushing to open the computer to get to the Zoom link and clicking on the option to “Join without Video.” Sound familiar?
Despite numerous teachers wanting their students to turn on their cameras during online classes, the choice should rest with the students and they shouldn’t be required to show their faces.
With the start of the school year, students devote seven hours a day attending online classes — and for some, the ability to turn off the camera during class offers both relief and privacy.
“If my mom or dad calls me all of a sudden and I have to turn my camera off and the teacher calls me out for that,” ASB Commissioner of Publicity and senior Nate Lime said, “[I’d] feel really uncomfortable turning it back on and . . . having the teacher see me talk to my parents.”
Section 43503 of the California Education Code requires that all educational organizations that provide distance learning must include daily live interaction. The code clarifies that this daily live interaction can take the form of internet or telephonic communication, but does not specify whether a visual exchange is necessary.
Lodi Unified School District’s policies also add little clarification on the visual aspect. The district’s protocols for distance learning include maintaining proper attendance, following the dress code and using school-appropriate language among others. No clear guidelines are provided for the use of cameras during class, which allows individual teachers to establish their own guidelines.
“A lot of teachers and students and parents are trying to make this seem like we’re in a real class… where a teacher is watching the students and monitoring behavior,” AP European History teacher Jonathon Clemons said, “but that’s not really realistic through online platforms.”
For students who are used to teachers requiring them to remove their hoodies in class so their faces — as well as their hidden earbuds — can be seen, the rules can be confusing. Different teachers have different rules for their classrooms regarding students being required to show their faces during class and students are supposed to just comply.
“When school first started, I think the first two weeks, I turned on my camera in every class, every day because I wasn’t sure of the guidelines,” junior Colleen Nguyen said. “The teachers didn’t really set down what they wanted. I just kept it on in case they would mark me absent.”
There are a multitude of reasons for not wanting to turn on the camera as well, such as the conditions of the home environment. The happenings inside of each student’s home should be kept personal, but having to turn on the camera is an invasion of privacy that might make students uncomfortable.
“In one of my classes a student had something going on inside their house so they had to privately message the teacher to turn their camera off, but the teacher was on screen sharing mode, so everyone saw,” sophomore Briana Vallejos said. “I think we should give them some privacy because if something is going on in their house then that’s their thing and we shouldn’t be intruding on it.”
This invasion of privacy can also change with the location of the student’s device. The background that the camera captures could be disruptive or distracting because some students take care of younger siblings. Their bedrooms can also be a very personal space that they don’t want peeping eyes to see.
“I find my room to be very private,” Nguyen said. “I don’t even let my brother in because that’s just my safe place and where I can relax. I think I would feel intruded by other people if they were to see my living conditions.”
Some teachers have marked students as absent or docked participation points depending on if a student’s camera was on or if their full face was visible on screen. These actions are a bit harsh and essentially force students to show their faces to keep their grade.
“If the student wants to turn on their camera then they’re more than welcome to,” Lime said, “but if not, then that’s ultimately their choice.”
Students are still getting used to this new educational environment and deserve to learn in the best way that suits them. Teachers should recognize that students are still adjusting. Allowing them to choose to not show their face during class is a decision that students can and should make for themselves as individuals.
“I think the whole point of what we’re doing is we’re trying to teach curriculum and content in a difficult situation,” Clemons said. “It’s not supposed to be our job to babysit students and so I don’t think we necessarily need to watch them.”
Of course there are cases where showing faces is acceptable such as monitoring tests or taking roll. Besides those specific scenarios, the decision should lie with the student.