Voice amp system raises concerns

Concerns about how a new voice amplification system might record classroom interactions spurred discussion at Monday night’s meeting of the Warren County School District’s board of directors.

The technology up for debate was the Front Row-Juno, a voice amplification system with recording capabilities that is capable of capturing teacher audio, aligning it with a presentation and creating a video that could be posted online for student review. Currently, the district utilizes Redcat sound amplification devices for students who are identified with that specific need, but the need for service is increasing and the warranties on the Redcat devices are running out, necessitating a review of what else is on the market.

“I don’t feel comfortable voting on this,” board member Mary Anne Paris said. “I don’t understand if they are copying or making videos of their lesson plans. How long do we have to keep them?”

She also expressed concern about students being videotaped or audio recorded.

“Are we sure that this is not going to be happening? We don’t have anything in place saying how long to keep (these recordings). We should have some guidelines,” she said.

Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Gary Weber said student information in recordings would be protected by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. “Teachers can determine the time limit they would keep the information,” he said. “It would be considered educational material…. There’s never been any time limit or archival restraint to what we do.”

“How do we protect those lesson plans?” Paris asked.

“I don’t know that in education we covet lesson plans in that way,” Weber said. “We’re in a very sharing field. We put lessons out there all the time. (It would) still (be) at the teacher’s discretion about what they would put out there for view. There’s always liability out there any time a human touches anything.” He said that anything placed on the web would still be subject to review.

“The video is of the material, not of the audience,” Acting Superintendent Amy Stewart said regarding this technology. “You’re capturing a presentation and you’re capturing audio. Capturing audio of what is going on and capturing lessons should be a real win for teachers that want to embrace that. (We’re) not going to say that everyone has to use them.”

She expressed concern that “the storage of those files could get away from us very fast if we don’t proceduralize that.”

“I feel like this is one of the things that we are going to grow into, developing these procedures,” she said. “Patty (Hawley-Horner) is trying to use special education money that can only be used for narrow things, trying to line up that money with things that we are going to need.”

Total cost which the administration proposed to split among three separate special education accounts IDEA, ACCESS and Early Intervention is $114,000.

Solicitor Chris Byham acknowledged some concern about the recording of student audio with the devices.

“The teacher will be wearing a microphone necklace,” he said. “It definitely will pick up student voices. Because of that it does draw in the wiretap. (The district will) need to make sure that everyone in the classroom knows recording is occurring.”

He recommended conspicuous signage, notice in the student handbook and sending information home to parents as three ways to enhance awareness.

Board member Dr. Paul Yourchisin said that “in a real world classroom” it could be beneficial to record audio if a student is antagonistic.

“That’s where the notice comes in,” Byham said.

The board approved the purchase unanimously.