Q: My district recently installed video cameras in all school buses for the upcoming school year. The videos record visual (but not audio) footage during regularly scheduled routes. How long do we have to keep the videos before we can record over the images? What if a parent requests a copy? Are we required to release copies to parents?
A: School bus videos which do not depict an incident (like a fight) should be kept as long as “administratively valuable” – at least 10 days. If the video depicts an incident the video must be kept at least 30 days after resolution. Parents are not entitled to copies of the video; however, they are entitled to view the video as long as it is an “education record” of their child. Permission from parents of other students captured on the video is not required.
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission governs how public entities retain records and specifically addresses school bus videos in its retention schedule. For school bus surveillance videos which do not depict an incident (whether student or employee related), a district is only required to keep the videos as long as “administratively valuable” – however, the Commission suggests retaining for ten days. For videos which do record an incident, the Commission requires a district to keep the video for at least 30 days “after the incident is resolved or verdict is rendered.” In reality, we suggest keeping any video depicting a student altercation or instance of employee misconduct indefinitely in that student or employee’s file.
With regard to viewing, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act governs not only confidentiality, but also access to student records. This law gives parents the right to access the “education records” of their children, which are defined as “those records, files, documents, and other materials which: (1) contain information directly related to a student; and (2) are maintained by an educational agency or institution.” 20 USCS §1232g. Thus, a school bus video can only be an “education record” if it is maintained specifically for that student’s file. The most common example of this would be if the child was involved in a fight or altercation and the video was being used in a discipline hearing. Once the decision is made to retain the video for a discipline (or academic) purpose, it becomes part of that child’s education records. Note however, that unlike other education records, a parent is entitled to view the video only – the district is not required to provide a parent with a copy of the footage. If this is a common issue in your district, you may wish to develop request procedures (e.g., request forms, designated personnel who will process requests, etc.) and lay those procedures out in your Student/Parent Handbook.
Note, if children are merely seen in the background of a video and the video is not being maintained for any purpose related to the education of those children, then their parents are not entitled to access, nor are you required to obtain permission from those parents to show the video to the parents of the student for whom the video is being maintained. However, if a video is being maintained as an education record for more than one student (e.g. multiple students involved in an altercation), the video is the education record of each child actually involved. The Family Policy Compliance Office (a division of the Department of Education) has not yet taken an official stance on this issue, but has informally ruled that since video cannot be easily redacted, the parents of any child actually involved in the altercation may view the video without needing consent from the other parents of involved students. Further, the Texas Attorney General has stated that all children involved in an altercation are “directly related to each other” and, thus, the parents of each student involved are entitled to access and no consent from the other parents is necessary. Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. OR2006-07701.