Is it possible to cultivate human interaction and effectively communicate through a colorful icon on a computer screen? After a few months of becoming acquainted with the new aspects of virtual learning, this concern has been at the forefront of discussion among the Fairfield Public Schools administration. Although there is no clear solution to this pressing issue, the Board of Education proposed a polarizing policy: a camera mandate. From teachers who crave face-to-face instruction in their classes to students who demand their privacy, this implementation has sparked meaningful debate. Each position presents valid arguments which must be considered.
The camera mandate went into effect for Warde students on November 21, 2020, a week later than the same policy was enforced at Ludlowe, requiring learners to have their cameras on in order to be marked “present” for class. Decided by administrators, this new policy was in direct response to the many issues that arose during the beginning of the school year, such as difficulty logging attendance, lack of participation, and failure by students to complete assignments. In the first months of school, all students, whether participating in hybrid or remote learning, utilized the video-communication platform Google Meet when working at home. This allowed virtual students to connect with the in-person class. Administrators began to think that, because of increased distractions and the inability to see what students were doing at home, the quality of student learning had taken a toll.
“I read so much from student faces,” says Jodie Shannon, teacher of pre-calculus and calculus at Warde. “I like the personalization of having cameras on.” Shannon has been a strong supporter of the mandate and describes why seeing faces during class makes learning easier. “Having cameras on gives students a responsibility to do their work,” she believes. In her opinion, most teachers feel similar to her and see the best results when students can be seen. Even so, support has been far from universal.
Daniel Jaber, senior at Fairfield Warde High School and member of Fairfield Warde Voices for Equity Club, has been at the forefront of opposition to the camera mandate. He has voiced his many concerns regarding the policy, including added stress for students, lack of privacy, and slower internet connection. “It creates anxiety and additional stress for someone who is trying to participate in class,” he explains. “I think it is completely unfair that the student body has no say in this.” To represent the student voice, Jaber, along with Fairfield Warde Voices for Equity and Ludlowe’s Youth for Equity, has discussed his concerns with the principals and attended Board of Education meetings. He believes a camera-optional policy that “ensures everyone is comfortable and mentally okay” would be a better solution.
In a school year that epitomizes abnormality, it is hard to predict what will happen next with the mandate. For now, cameras are on and student faces, sibling appearances, and messy bedrooms will be seen. Only time will tell whether the student voice is enough to overturn this measure, or if the mandate will continue to be enforced in the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic year.