Not long ago, the decision by a Northeastern school district to install security cameras in two high schools without any announcement to parents, faculty, staff or students stirred up a hornet’s nest.
A student newspaper first broke the story about the cameras. A debate ensued about whether or not the cameras should stay. A committee was formed to decide if the cameras represented too great a threat to the privacy of students, faculty, and staff.
There is a real lesson here for school administrators–parents, teachers, and students do not like to be surprised. Cameras on a campus setting can evoke strong feelings. The way to overcome this is to be open and involve the entire school community from the very beginning of the planning process.
There is little argument anymore that properly placed cameras can help protect school property and the safety of students and staff without becoming an undue violation of anyone’s privacy. But in each successful installation there was significant input from administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students before any cameras were installed.
Listen to the concerns of each group ahead of time. Treat them with respect and share with them the extent of theft, vandalism, fights, and other criminal activities faced by the school or district. Most people, including district employees, are not aware how much these activities cost each year or how that translates into less money being available for music, athletics, or other programs.
Provide them with the goals of a video surveillance system and show them where the cameras will be placed. Talk about who will monitor the video and how it will be recorded and archived. Make it clear that areas such as locker rooms and restrooms are private and will never include cameras. It may be wise to create a security committee with representatives of each interest group for regular advice-and-consent sessions.
School security is too important an issue to sacrifice to bad planning and communication.
Patrick V. Fiel Sr. is public safety advisor for ADT Security Services and a former executive director of school security for Washington, D.C. Public School System. He also served 22 years in the Army Military Police Corps, where his responsibilities included day-to-day security operations at the West Point Military Academy. During his time with ADT, Fiel has conducted more than 100 television, radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews as a public and school safety expert.
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