Oak Ridge school board members sidestepped a potentially controversial policy change on Monday that would have given them the right to restrict cameras and video recorders that are used disruptively.
The five-member Oak Ridge Board of Education had been scheduled to consider a policy change that said it “reserves the right to restrict the use of cameras, camcorders, or other photographic equipment that interferes or disrupts a board meeting.”
That was a watered-down version of a policy change recommended by the Tennessee School Boards Association. The original version said “No one shall bring a camera, camcorder, or other photographic equipment to board meetings without the consent of the board.”
Board members suggested the TSBA version went too far. During a meeting last month, they asked Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Tom Bailey to revise it.
“The board felt very strongly that that was very restrictive,” Bailey said of the original version. School officials changed the language to say the board reserves the right to regulate the devices.
Even with the changes presented Monday, though, school board members voted unanimously to postpone any consideration of the proposal. A few asked if it was necessary.
“I’m not sure that there’s ever been a problem with this,” said school board member Dan DiGregorio, referring to meeting disruptions—or the lack of them—in Oak Ridge.
School officials said the TSBA had recommended the policy change due to incidents at board meetings elsewhere, including in Memphis, where cameras or electronic devices were reportedly used to intentionally disrupt meetings.
Board members said they weren’t trying to prevent people from taking photographs but were “trying to keep people from making a circus out of it.” Still, board members suggested they already have the power to regulate meetings and prevent disruptions.
A few residents had questioned the policy proposal. Board members suggested some residents might focus on the language restricting cameras—and not on the limited circumstances under which the devices might be regulated—if the school board approved the policy.
The camera policy could be considered again later, possibly after more research on the board’s existing authorities.
Also Monday, the board approved a policy change that allows members to attend meetings electronically in limited circumstances. If certain conditions are met, they can take part in up to two meetings per year electronically if they are out of Anderson County due to work-related travel or if they have a family emergency.
They can also attend meetings electronically when needed due to military service.