FEATURE — December 26, 2020 at 6:28 pm

Amendment to Broward County Public Schools attendance policy requiring cameras on during class draws mixed reactions from students

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Creative Writing teacher and newspaper advisor Melissa Falkowski poses for a digital group picture with her seventh period newspaper class. Photo by Melissa Falkowski

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Broward County School Board revised and ratified a change to Policy 5.5 of their attendance guidelines. This change now requires that students turn their cameras on during online class to be marked present for attendance, effective Dec. 2.

This new rule has received praise from some teachers, many of whom could not find a definitive way to get their students to turn their cameras on. Now, teachers can have a set-in-stone method of seeing their students, and therefore have a more attentive class and an experience closer to what normal school was like before. In a district-wide survey conducted from November 6-16, 69% of teachers responded in support of the cameras-on rule.

However, students have had mixed feelings about this new rule. Some are pleased that they can now see their classmates throughout the period while many others are frustrated that they now have to be visible during class.

“With the new mandatory camera rule, I think it will definitely help [the class experience] but I personally do not like it because it forces me to sit in the same place and position for a long time,” sophomore Luke Mckenna said. “I think having someone sit for a long period of time can make them lose attention. Therefore teaching will be [less effective.]”

While students dislike the new rule for a variety of reasons, many acknowledge the benefits it has for teachers.

“I don’t like the new mandatory camera-on rule; it makes me uncomfortable,” freshman Ava Wellnitz said. “Apart from my personal opinion, I think the teachers will appreciate this rule because people are participating [more] and paying attention.”

The exact language of the rule allows for teachers to verify other methods of attendance if they do not want to make their students turn their cameras on. In most cases, teachers have asked their students to turn their cameras on only for the beginning of class to take attendance, and after that, it is up to the students if they would like to keep them on or off. 

“I will require the camera for attendance and maybe for some activities. I have not quite decided yet. Everyday it feels like we have to adapt to something new,” biology teacher Itza Sierra said. “I can see how it could [make for a better classroom experience] since students would be more accountable, but you would have to constantly be reminding students to put [their] cameras on, and the bigger the class is, the harder it would be to track all the students at the same time.”

Students like junior Evan Rubenstein are pleased with this rule. Rubenstein has kept his camera on in most classes since the beginning of the school year in an attempt to be more present for the duration of his classes and to try to strengthen his relationships with his teachers.

“I feel as though without my camera on, I would not be able to keep myself accountable for paying attention and being productive in class,” Rubenstein said. “Because I was one of the only people with their camera on, I felt like I was able to [have] a more personal connection with some of my teachers. This is especially true of one teacher I have, [as] they really miss being able to see all their students in class so having my camera on really seemed to have a positive effect on them.”

One concern raised with the new rule is bandwidth usage, or the overall usage of data transfer for a household or server. Since most students now have their cameras on during class, students and teachers have seen mild fluctuations in call quality because of the high server usage. Additionally, several teachers have raised concerns over household WiFi usage.

“I have mixed feelings about the new rule. I can see how it will be beneficial; unfortunately, it does create lag within [Microsoft] Teams, especially if you are using tools like Nearpod or videos,” Sierra said. “The internet in a lot of homes is already causing issues during class without the cameras being on.”

While this new rule benefits teachers in that they now have a way to promote a better classroom experience, most students dislike the change compared to the previous freedom they had before. It remains to be seen whether teachers uphold this rule or go back to a more relaxed online environment.

This story was originally published in the December 2020 Eagle Eye print edition.

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Travis Newbery is a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He is an assistant Editor-in-Chief and the design editor for the Eagle Eye. Travis has interests in photo and video editing and technology.

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