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Big Brother Comes to the Bathroom

As schools around the United States continue to coddle their students, one Colorado academy is taking it to a new and startling level. In an attempt to ensure that its premises are “safe and secure” at all times, Windsor Charter Academy, a K-12 charter school, has installed [1] surveillance cameras in all its bathrooms.

The aim of the school’s snooping is to prevent bullying and other harassment that administrators fear takes place outside of immediate supervised time. But not only is installing surveillance cameras in bathrooms an invasion of students’ privacy, bullying itself is going down nationwide at the same time that hysteria over it is increasing.

A Pediatrics study of 10-year trends in bullying, released in June, found [2] that 10 out of 13 indicators of bullying decreased between 2005 and 2014. The report also observed a more general decline in bullying, victimization, and cyberbullying. The authors studied self-reported instances of bullying from 246,306 students in 109 Maryland schools. Their findings conclude: “Prevalence of bullying and related behaviors generally decreased over this 10-year period with the most recent years showing the greatest improvements in school climate and reductions in bullying.”

Why, then, do modern school administrators fear that any unsupervised time they allow students will devolve into harassment and violence?

As “Free Range Kids” founder Lenore Skenazy and psychologist Jonathan Haidt put it [3] at Reason, since the 1980s, “children largely lost the experience of having large swaths of unsupervised time to play, explore, and resolve conflicts on their own.” This has created a generation of parents who fear any unstructured time for their children—that same generation are now school administrators, politicians, and teachers, which explains the bullying hysteria.     

The decision by Windsor Charter has enraged some parents and led students to shy away from going to the restroom during school hours. But student surveillance is by no means unique to Windsor. A 2016 report [4] found that about 90 percent of college campuses employed surveillance cameras, while about 33 percent of K-12 students [5] have school-issued technology such as laptops that have been used to collect data on them. Some of the laptops come with spy software installed [6], which allows officials to keep a constant eye on what students are doing. One Philadelphia school even spied on students after classes were over, which resulted in a $610,000 settlement between the school and a pupil they surveilled.

Even bathroom peeping isn’t unique to Windsor. In Britain, a freedom of information request [7] found that 207 schools across the island had installed some 825 cameras in bathrooms or changing rooms. Just as with Windsor, these measures were all justified under the guise of preventing bullying or “bad behavior.”  

Back in America, as some states consider measures to dictate what restrooms students can use, you can certainly imagine a scenario where Windsor’s decision sets a precedent for even creepier bathroom surveillance. For example, in Virginia [8], lawmakers are considering a bill that would require transgender students at all public schools to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth. Failure to follow the law would result in a $50 fine. Lawmakers haven’t spelled out how they would determine which students were using which restrooms, but the Roanoke Times satirized [9] the idea by proposing waist-level cameras in every school bathroom.


Not only is this constant state of spying incredibly creepy, it also makes students less prepared to tackle the real world. As Skenazy and Haidt argue [3], “When we raise kids unaccustomed to facing anything on their own, including risk, failure, and hurt feelings, our society and even our economy are threatened.”

If students grow up in a world where they feel they are constantly being watched, they are less likely to develop necessary problem-solving skills, because they know adults will always step in to handle the tough issues. This will lead to more of the hysterical “safe space” culture we see on college campuses and will ultimately result in a risk-averse workforce unwilling to challenge the status quo and try new things for fear of failure.    

Constant surveillance of students is both a violation of their rights and another example of how an entire generation has been mollycoddled. Students deserve the liberty to handle their own affairs—especially going to the bathroom.

Dan King is an advocate for Young Voices and a journalist residing in Arlington, Virginia. He writes about free speech, mass surveillance, civil liberties, and LGBT issues. He can be found on Twitter @Kinger_Liberty [10].

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Big Brother Comes to the Bathroom"

#1 Comment By Celery On December 11, 2017 @ 11:15 pm

School bathrooms could be very dangerous places when I went to school, precisely because they weren’t watched. We are essentially surveilled every time we use one of our internet devices, when we are on the street, when driving, in buildings, and in our connected homes. It’s not grownups but authorities that step in if something is captured of behavior amiss, and we are all subject to this “mollycoddling”.

Cameras in use in bathrooms is disturbing, but the kids who were beaten in the school bathrooms of my youth may have appreciated them.

#2 Comment By sam On December 12, 2017 @ 12:14 am

I want to install a surveillance camera in FBI chiefs home

#3 Comment By Mike Garrett On December 12, 2017 @ 2:36 am

I was a skinny, small boy who developed late and was smart. The only time I was ever badly bullied in the bathroom was when our first grade teacher came in and shoved us around demanding silence. She took a three inch stack of paper towels and tore it in half, making us use the halves. Guys over the years were most civilised in the john.

#4 Comment By Mike Garrett On December 12, 2017 @ 2:54 am

It was not big brother that made elementary school hell; it was big sister. I never had a male teacher until I got to the Jr High in the 7th grade. Mankind has known for thousands of years that women mature more rapidly than men, and in antiquity men were married at nineteen to women fourteen. Today in America women who are five years younger than their husbands have a statistically higher probability of avoiding divorce than marriages with men of any other age.

Coeducation is a nightmare for the boys, who are less mature, add female teachers to the mix, and the boys lose interest in the whole mess. It is the result of this neo-Viking democracy fetish, lingering from days when every warrior was equal, in theory. The boys mature later. Why ignore reality? This coeducational schooling is simple-minded nonsense, a failed experiment that has done amazing damage to several generations of American men.

#5 Comment By Tyro On December 12, 2017 @ 10:37 am

I knew eventually the former school bullies would come out to decry anti-bullying measures.

School bathrooms are loci of bullying and violence by students precisely because they are out of sight of adults.

#6 Comment By Olga On December 12, 2017 @ 10:39 am

For basic privacy reasons there should not be a camera in a bathroom.

However, you can design bathrooms to be safer. A Unisex bathroom would be safer. Individual stalls where there is a full door that closes for complete privacy in the bathroom. Sinks out in the open for hand washing and that can be monitored by teachers or staff.

@Mike Garrett — There are two reasons there are no male elementary school teachers. 1) Low pay. 2) When men do try to teach at the elementary level often parents look at them with great suspicion and don’t really like the idea of their young child having a male teacher, so most male teachers, teach in Middle School and up.

#7 Comment By Richard McEvoy On December 12, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

The problem is that individuals are left to their own devices to work out how to stand up to bullying. Furthermore, no distinction is made between bullying – which I would define as belittling another verbally – and assault which is a physical attack and hence a criminal act.

I think it is fair to ask children to learn psychological strategies to deal with bullying. This is part of everyday life and a useful skill.

In essence, the trick is not to respond to the bullies in kind or to react hurt, but to show that no matter what is said to you, it is water off a duck’s back. For example, even the phrase “thanks, you learn something new every day”, can be used to blank bullying remarks.

I think it is totally unfair to ask children to learn to deal with physical assault or threats that in an adult context would be reason to call the police. We don’t tell a woman who is being mugged that it will “make a man” of her (gender fluidity be damned) so why is it acceptable to tell a child of 10 that being stomped on by a boy of 13 or 14 that they have to be “manly” and stand up for themselves in what is clearly an unfeasible contest of strength.

#8 Comment By Will Harrington On December 12, 2017 @ 12:04 pm

So, if the guy who keeps to himself down the street does this, he is rightly convicted and thrown in prison, but if schools do it, its …oh heck, let the FBI arrest these school administrators on child porn charges and someone PLEASE require good classes on law as it applies to public schools a required class for administrators.

#9 Comment By Tyro On December 12, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

In essence, the trick is not to respond to the bullies in kind or to react hurt, but to show that no matter what is said to you, it is water off a duck’s back. For example, even the phrase “thanks, you learn something new every day”, can be used to blank bullying remarks.

I sure hope you don’t have children, or that if you do you have set up a therapy savings account.

#10 Comment By Dale McNamee On December 12, 2017 @ 5:42 pm

And add to this the issue of transgenders in the bathrooms of their choice… Especially, girls’ bathrooms invaded by “pseudo girls”…

It’s long past time to homeschool…

And if you must send your children to public schools… Teach them extreme self-defense…

#11 Comment By Dale Matson On December 12, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

I don’t recall problems in the bathroom but I do recall problems during recess and in the gym locker room and at the bus stop. Because it is being supervised by an “adult” does not mean there won’t be bullying. My swim coach was a bully. I agree with Will on this. Don’t think that the video footage won’t be sold to the wrong people and children extorted to keep things quiet.

#12 Comment By Dale Matson On December 12, 2017 @ 6:47 pm

I don’t recall problems in the bathroom but I do recall problems during recess and in the gym locker room and at the bus stop. Because it is being supervised by an “adult” does not mean there won’t be bullying. My swim coach was a bully. I agree with Will on this. Don’t think that the video footage won’t be sold to the wrong people and children extorted to keep things quiet.

#13 Comment By joeG On December 13, 2017 @ 5:16 am

Do children attend school to learn math, reading, writing, or just to acquire liberal social and interpersonal propaganda? I guess we know the answer to that one. Children are now being raised to expect only a world of rainbows and unicorns, and if they do not enter such a world they will consider themselves victims. In fact there are so many types of victim that we have a victim hierarchy where certain victims consider themselves victims of other victims. Of course this is the case when everyone is a victim.

#14 Comment By Useful idiot that voted gop On December 13, 2017 @ 9:17 am

At a particularly rough high school in Los Angeles students would routinely turn off the lights in the bathroom and yell “free for all!” At that point every bully who happened to be in the bathroom would hit any kid in range. Sometimes it was safest to just get low and hug the wall. Eventually the school administrators disconnected the light switches, but the craftier kids were still able to get the lights off. I did everything I could to avoid a trip to the restroom. I agree the nanny state is a negative development but not every idea to make kids safer should be discarded.

#15 Comment By a commenter On December 13, 2017 @ 9:58 am

I’m not really good with the idea of children being filmed in bathrooms because that is an invasion of their privacy. The proper solution to both bathroom bullying and children being asked by their schools to undress in front of people of the opposite biological sex, is to revamp bathrooms so that they are actually private, meaning the doors go down to the floor and up to the ceiling, don’t have centimeter-wide gaps that bullies can peek through, and so on. Then you can perhaps make the handwashing areas non-private and either knock down the walls that keep those areas invisible, or put in videocams, or some other solution.

But currently, most people, from what I can tell, seem to think of the open part of bathrooms as private. So I think you have to get girls to understand that you can’t change your clothes in the open part of the girls’ room, before you start filming them in there. And what about boys’ bathrooms? Are they going to be filming little boys using the urinals? Not ok.

#16 Comment By Mario Diana On December 13, 2017 @ 10:58 am

I have a better idea: reopen reform schools, and be quite liberal when it comes to which monsters are taken from their parents and sent away to them.

What’s wrong with our society is that the innocent are made to accommodate the criminals.

#17 Comment By b. On December 13, 2017 @ 2:42 pm

“This has created a generation [..] who fear any unstructured time for their children [..] which explains the bullying hysteria.”

I find the article relevant and informative; I believe this leap above is BS. The bullying hysteria might well be related to an ever-increasing desire to exert control, but the latter is by no means “explained” by it.

The issue of pervasive, ubiquitous surveillance goes far beyond any pretend-paternalist ploy – whether it is voluntarily becoming a product in “social” surveillance media such as Facebook, or acquiescing with unconstitutional mass surveillance, algorithmic adjudication and preventive policing, or endorsing policing aiming at instant compliance, or the criminalization of dissent and protest – see e.g. BDS or “free speech” pens – contemporary US society is utterly unable to understand the scale and scope of the ongoing changes. The conflict about the alleged rights conveyed in the 2nd amendment are an irrelevant holdover from a past of “liberty” that never was, in comparison to the turnkey tyranny infrastructure that tens of billions of dollars are spent on by Government and corporations.

Equally irrelevant is the concern about fake porn created by “deep learning” applications – what does such content communicate to the viewer that the viewer does not already know too well – compared to the recognition that we are witnessing the manufacturing of a world in which we cannot trust any single bit of communication all by itself – photo, video, voice transmission are, by themselves, no longer sufficient to be considered a trusted truth. The impact of photography and TV an the “informed consent of the governed” and the “educated voter” has been bad from the start, and only become worse; now we will live in a foam of fast-forward media bubbles in which novelty and outrageousness trumps everything else.

How to maintain a functional system of representative democracy and republican governance and an open society, if not only our children, but ourselves and our parents are not only completely unprepared to deal with these risks, but completely unwilling to even concede that we are living the beginning of the end of certainty?

Who knows, our children might grow up to develop much better BS detectors than what we ever mustered – despite all the other distortions and dysfunctions our never-ending quest to exert control have created in our education system. Our kids will not learn critical thinking in for-profit charter schools and underfunded public schools, they might as well learn it from watching the Internet turn into a corporatized machinery for the manufacturing and profitable distribution of insanity, BS and lies.

#18 Comment By Egypt Steve On December 14, 2017 @ 6:08 pm

Do kids still smoke in the boy’s room? I kind of hope so. Teacher, don’t you fill me up with your rules!

#19 Comment By Stephen Hubbard On December 17, 2017 @ 1:06 am

There have been several fights and murders in bathroom precisely because they are NOT monitored. Thugs go where the cameras aren’t. Having worked in an anti-gang program, I fully support this concept to prevent drug sales, shakedowns and attacks. Anyone labeling it as government intrusion is clueless about what goes on in bathrooms in some schools.

#20 Comment By a commenter On December 17, 2017 @ 11:05 am

“The issue of pervasive, ubiquitous surveillance goes far beyond any pretend-paternalist ploy”

I agree with you. I think that this shift results from our society’s moving toward a view that morality should based on a ‘care-harm’ logic, ie on avoidance of harm. By this logic, bullying is harmful (and bullying actually can be shown scientifically to be harmful, in various measures of subsequent depression and anxiety, lower grades, and so on), and therefore any action that reduces bullying is morally permissible (or morally imperative!)

I think the problem is that there is no natural limit to this argument. Do children have a right to privacy? Is it moral to remove their right to privacy if their privacy is “harmful” to themselves or others? Advocates of videocams in children’s bathrooms would argue, yes, correct? What about adults? Same deal? What other rights, besides privacy, can be removed by “society” (really by specific government personnel who design policy) in order to achieve reduced “harm”. How about… free will. I mean, if people were literally incapable of doing bad things, taking away free will would get rid of so much harm!

You think I need a tinfoil hat. But these questions are being seriously explored in the scientific literature, outside of the view of laypersons, and with a very explicit assumption that avoiding harm is the primary acceptable and objective moral framework for consideration. For example:


I will discuss the prospect of pharmaceutically enhancing human morality and decision making in such a way as to eliminate morally unjustifiable choices and promote desirable ones.”