Administration eyes new secret cameras

By David Han
Published: September 2008

The Newton School Committee plans to vote on, and likely will approve, a policy in November that will give Newton Schools the option to install security cameras to protect the safety and property of students.

A portion of the Security Subcommittee’s policy would allow the principals of Newton schools to install cameras as they deem necessary. Under the proposed policy, the school would inform the community if cameras were installed, but would not reveal the location of each security device.

School administrators installed five security cameras at South last fall without informing the school community at large. Following a Denebola investigation, the cameras were removed and the Security Subcommittee was formed to find an appropriate response.

The subcommittee, headed by School Committee member Marc Laredo, stressed the need for “quick and decisive responses in emergencies.

“We decided rather than just coming up with a policy on cameras, we were going to implement a more general policy in the school level, Laredo said.

The policy sets guidelines for appropriate responses to various threats to the safety of students, including bomb threats, armed intruders, chemical spills, thefts, and vandalism. One response is the use of security cameras.

According to subcommittee member Reenie Murphy, the policy calls for the principal to collaborate with the school’s administration in the case cameras would be implemented.

“The passing of this policy clearly communicates to the staff and the community what we would do if we needed to [install cameras], Principal Brian Salzer said. “And I think that’s better than each principal making the decision.

Newton Public Schools Superintendant Jeffrey Young must approve any measure, including the use of cameras, before it is implemented.

The cameras would be a “response to consistent theft or vandalism according to Murphy.

Laredo stressed that the goal of the policy is “to provide for the safety and security of the kids, the faculty, the staff, and the school system.

The emphasis to notify the public before the use of security measures such as cameras was a major focus of the policy.

“Given this policy, if there comes a time and a situation where we need to use security cameras, it would be communicated, Salzer said. “It would be expected, and there will be less of an adverse reaction. This is essential. In spite of the subcommittee’s emphasis to communicate its policies with the school, South Senate president Bill Humphrey expressed his disapproval.

“They are going for the wrong approach, Humphrey said. “It’s a hindrance to South students because it will do very little to deter vandalism and theft, etc. while stripping us of our civil liberties, by assuming probable cause to suspect everyone.

The subcommittee seriously considered people’s rights, according to Murphy.

“[Cameras will be used] to protect people and possessions, Murphy said. “It infringes on someone’s rights to have things stolen from them.

Humphrey sees the cameras as an encumbrance rather than a benefit to South.

“It feeds a culture of sacrificing freedom for false security, Humphrey said.

After passing a non-binding Senate resolution last year stating that the Senate “ought to receive briefing from the administration on future plans of the same kind, Humphrey feels the subcommittee ignored the student government.

Laredo understands Humphrey’s position with the cameras.

“Personally, I have reluctance to use cameras at all, but I do recognize situations where they may be necessary, Laredo said. “I expected for administrators to think exactly the way the student Senate president is thinking about. And to make sure they’re thinking not only what will the cameras do, but what are some of the possible negative effects of having cameras.

For junior Vice President Lucky Liyanage, “this possible policy does nothing to cut the source of the problem. Prevention is more important; even if an act is caught on camera, the damage is still done.

In order to incorporate community response into the policy, the subcommittee plans to distribute a survey to Newton residents in October before likely approving the policy in November.

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