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School Committee permits camera use

By David Han and Morgan Seiler
Published: November 2008

The School Committee passed, with a unanimous vote, a security policy Monday, permitting the use of security cameras in schools.

The security policy plans to deal with a range of security catastrophes such as bomb threats and chemical spills.

The possible use of security cameras will only be implemented as a response to a series of non-emergency crimes, such as vandalism or theft.

In such a case, before the cameras are put up, a written justification by the principal and assistant superintendent needs to be approved by the superintendent. According to the policy, students will be informed if the cameras are put into effect, but not necessarily where the cameras are placed.

In prepared comments before the Committee, South Senate President and senior Bill Humphrey criticized what he felt was a lack of oversight over the implementation of security cameras and a lack of community input before cameras are installed.

“If the situation is not an emergency. What’s the rush? he said. “Why can’t there be more steps for approval?

The cameras will only stay in place as long as it is necessary to address the concern for which they are implemented.

“I hoped [the policy] would not pass at all, Humphrey said. “Cameras are a violation of the fourth amendment right because it is taking away the reasonable suspicion and implicating everyone. That’s not what we need to be doing right now.

In the discussion following Humphrey’s presentation, school committee members were able to finally converse about his issues with the policy.

“It was a compelling argument, school committee member Claire Sokoloff said.

Many Committee members believed the policy should pass to see how it goes.

“We should see what works and what does not, school committee chair Dori Zaleznik said.

The school committee hopes that the policy will be effective in use.

“First, knowledge that cameras have been installed will deter vandalism and thefts; and second, if the vandalism and thefts do not stop, the perpetrator will be caught and dealt with accordingly student representative Ben Miller said.

Others, like Security Subcommittee Chair Marc Laredo and Principal Brian Salzer, agree that security cameras could help prevent such crimes.¯

The School Committee released a school security survey in order to get more perspective on the issues. Principal Salzer thought it was a great idea to get public opinion, saying it can act like a barometer of community values.

The survey offered lots of feedback, with around 800 responses. Almost half were from teachers or other people working within the school system.

A majority of the surveys were in favor of the use of cameras.

The debate continues, however, as to whether or not the security policy infringes on student and teacher rights.

“I’m adamantly opposed to any approval that would put cameras in the school whether they are secret or not, Humphrey said. “Sweeping infringements of fourth amendment rights are not acceptable.

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