Camera count rises from 10-12 to 50-60

By Dayun Keum
Published: November 2010

In an effort to improve security and prevent theft at South, the administration plans to install 50 to 60 security cameras around the building in January. According to school policy, both North and South are permitted to use security cameras in public places.
The Newton School Committee, which presides over policy-making and budget approval, authorized this policy last spring.
This “gave the green light to go ahead, Principal Joel Stembridge said.
A company is currently helping the school system develop a Request for Proposal (RFP), to be issued in December, at several hundred thousand dollars.
The company has been at the two high school several times to help the administration find locations to install the cameras, as well as to decide how many feet of conduit and what equipment will be necessary.
The initial cost of the security system will be for the computer that runs it, at $50,000 to $60,000. Thereafter, school system will have to pay for each camera individually, as well as its installation – about $2,000 per camera.
According to Stembridge, the school system is able to fund this security system through the city, which gets grants from the state to be used solely for safety improvement infrastructure.
“It’s not money that could be used for personnel¦ the money we’re getting is more like security money, he said. “This grant couldn’t be used to pay a teacher’s salary or hire another police officer for a year.
The exact number of cameras that will be installed has not yet been determined. Currently, anywhere between 50 and 60 cameras could be installed, rather than the 10 to 12 that the school initially proposed, depending on the grants from the city.
In June, the committee made a number of amendments to the policy in response to requests from the two high school principals. Among the changes made was the number of days that a recording would be kept prior to deletion. Under the updated policy, the computer system will keep the past 14 days of recordings, and write over any recordings after this time period.
The committee also clarified that only the principals and other administrators, such as the housemasters and vice principal, would be able to view the tapes, and that the schools would share the tapes with the Newton Police if a crime was committed in the building.
“I respect the recommendation of the high school principals, who tell us that security cameras help reduce theft and vandalism which are serious problems at our high schools, Newton School Committee Chairperson Claire Sokoloff said.
She does, however, have concerns about the potential privacy infringement of installing cameras in the schools. “I am a big believer in individual liberties, and feel we must be very careful and thoughtful about how we use surveillance cameras, she said. “While I voted in favor of amending the policy to allow for cameras at South, I believe we have to be extremely careful about how we use them, and we need to monitor the implementation of the policy to ensure that it is being carried out in a way that protects students’ liberties.
Other administrators share this concern as well, and are taking measures to ensure awareness about and familiarity with the security cameras. According to Stembridge, the school will hold informational campaigns, give out information in advisories, and send a letter home to parents before the installation to ensure that both students and parents are informed.
“There will not be signs indicating where the cameras are located, but students will get to know what the cameras look like, Stembridge said.
English teacher Joe Scozzaro feels relatively comfortable with having cameras installed in the school.
“If you trust those who are charged with monitoring the videos than you should feel comfortable in the heightened sense of security, he said. “However, [the cameras] could make people act even more irresponsibly, thinking that the cameras are there to protect the stuff that they leave unattended. I hope that the cameras reduce the amount of vandalism¦ and deter people from pulling the fire alarms.
Junior Adam Macalister agrees, though he is less comfortable about the idea of security cameras in school. “ “The presence of cameras could feel a little invasive, like someone is always watching you, he said. “[However], I think the security cameras could help reduce potentially harmful and detrimental incidents which have previously gone unsolved.

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