Unintended Consequences

It’s always bad policy to try to fix something that isn’t broken, and it’s safe to say the New Hampshire Legislature has plenty of legitimate issues to address instead of messing with laws that are fine the way they are.

But that’s what happened with RSA HB 507 189.68, IV (HB507), which requires parental consent, a public hearing, and School Board approval for classroom video, film and audio recordings.

Parental permission has been required for years; the public hearing is new. But how the new policy is interpreted by individual school districts has varied – from common sense to rigid implementation.

So if you wonder why there are fewer photos in the newspaper of students in school activities these days, particularly in Hampstead, thank school officials and the legislature. And if you haven’t seen a change with our photographing school programs, that’s because your school district is using a bit more common sense in how it interprets a messy state law.

One of the items approved where written consent is not required is “Recordings of any other class, performance, competition, ceremony, instruction, presentation, orientation, training, assembly or any other school sponsored event that occurs outside the physical confines of a classroom.”

But when the Tri-Town Times went to Hampstead Central School to photograph such an assembly, it was met with a sign saying no photography or video recording would be allowed. The photographer was advised he could return that evening for an identical assembly and photograph it at that time. But with the photographer having a previous commitment for another event, that assembly didn’t get covered..

Parents, too, have been faced with a “no photographs” policy, preventing them from taking pictures of their own children. That, too, makes absolutely no sense. They’ve complained to a Hampstead School Board member, and the application of the policy in Hampstead will be an agenda item at a future board meeting.

We know that some children can’t be photographed, and for myriad reasons. That’s been the situation for years, and at least at our newspapers, we have never violated the policy when advised that someone cannot be captured in print. We always ask first. But that wasn’t enough in Hampstead.

Meanwhile, we view this latest legislation as another knee-jerk, fear-based reaction that casts way too broad a net. No one wants to endanger any child. But modeling common sense is a good thing, for both school officials and New Hampshire legislators.