Security issues pose concerns at South: Do security cameras infringe on student rights?

By Dan Agarkov
Published: May 2010

The School Committee met with representatives from South and Newton North on May 10 to discuss the proposal for the installation of security cameras at the two high schools.

At the meeting, School Committee member Kurt Kusiak brought up the question of privacy and civil rights infringement that may occur through the use of surveillance.

The proposal, drafted by Principal Joel Stembridge and Newton North Principal Jenn Price, requests a change in the current School Committee policy so that cameras can be permanently installed.

The cameras would be used as a deterrent against crimes such as theft and vandalism, and the recordings would be reviewed if an incident were to occur.

Kusiak and others fear, however, that access to the footage may be abused and serve to hurt students and faculty.

South Assistant Principal Mary Scott, North Assistant Principal Deborah Holman, and Chief of Operations Mike Cronin presented the latest version of the protocol and answered questions at last week’s School Committee meeting.

The current proposal lacks specific information about the cost, number, and placement of the cameras but more information was requested for the next meeting.

According to School Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff, a new policy on school surveillance systems must be written and then voted on by the School Committee. Also, the current proposal must be revised before the School Committee can vote on it.

School Committee members each had a chance to voice their questions and particular concerns about the proposal.

“Right now we are just thinking [the proposal] through, Sokoloff said. The main area of concern is that the protocol needs to be more clearly delineated, especially with regard to how the recordings would be used.
Kusiak raised several points about the potential abuse of the system.

“This is the government infringing upon students’ civil liberties, Kusiak said at the meeting. “There’s something un-American about that.

On the other hand, Kusiak said that he supports the use of cameras to maintain safety in the schools, as long as the recordings are only accessible to a small group of people and only under specific circumstances.

Kusiak also suggested that to limit the possibility of abuse, the recordings should be erased within a very short period of time.

“I want to make sure that people’s privacy remains as private as possible except for the purpose of deterring crime, Kusiak said, adding that other members voiced similar concerns.

Junior Joe Step agrees that for the purpose of safety, cameras are acceptable.

“I think safety should come before civil rights, as long as the administration does not abuse this new power, Step said.

Freshman Avra Liverman conceded that although it may be unpleasant to be constantly watched, it is a measure that is needed.

“If that’s what it takes to protect our school, then it is alright, Liverman said.

Though the exact specifications and prices of the cameras are not known, Kusiak very roughly estimateed that the costs could be between $50,000 and $70,000 per school.

Even if the policy is changed and the protocol is passed, funding for the cameras still remains an issue. No money in the current budget is allocated for this project, but according to Sokoloff, the School Committee may have up to $150,000 in surplus. This money, however, has other potential uses, which may interfere with the installation of cameras.

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