Controversy transpired when the new Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill discovered 50 surveillance cameras and equipment were being delivered to the Middle/High School in Boiceville. She alerted board trustees, who also had no knowledge of the $135,000 purchase (around 30 percent is covered by BOCES) made by former Interim Superintendent Charlotte Gregory with the blessing of High School Principal Lance Edelman.
McGillicuddy has received supportive and unsupportive letters and is talking to people throughout the community. She voiced disappointment at the process, with no public discussion and no approval by the board to transfer the money that was left over from unused teacher contract legal fees. “The board of education and the community should have been part of the discussion,” she said. Servicing the equipment is estimated to cost around $9,000 annually. The board is looking at canceling the Board Docs program that cost roughly around the same price, but McGillicuddy said with a stream of teacher lay-offs this costly purchase doesn’t sit well with her. On a personal level, citing cost and privacy issues she said, “I’d rather not have the cameras in school.”
Surveillance will not be monitored but instead entered into a computer database. In the event of an illegal activity such as a theft or school fight, the retrieval of the data would need approval from the Superintendent. But questions still arise regarding privacy. If a recording of an illegal activity becomes part of evidence in a law enforcement issue does it then become property of police and possibly be made available for public disclosure? Or among the school community, at what point can parents have access to the surveillance in the event their child is a victim or is accused of being a perpetrator? Will teachers have access or other students? What will be the process if a student or parent demands to see a recording based on an alleged crime? McGillicuddy said these questions need to be addressed, but the intent is to have control through the Superintendent. Cameras will not be in bathrooms, locker rooms or classrooms.
A quick Google search reveals controversy surrounding how students are monitored throughout the day in schools. Security and education websites often lists the pro and cons of surveillance cameras. Abusing their intent is of greatest concern. Complaints are made or lawsuits are filed pertaining to students monitored in locker rooms or bathrooms and often complaints are filed with law enforcement overreaching bounds of privacy. In New Jersey, a security guard was discovered watching Cheerleaders practice. In Washington State, two female students were monitored sharing a kiss in the hallway. In Mississippi, parents filed a complaint over cameras in a locker room. Every search engine contains videos of the Columbine massacre, which offers a quick reminder that cameras cannot stop a horrific event; we can however watch the result. On the other hand, advocates point out that cameras offer hard evidence if a crime is committed and can make for a useful deterrent; that a student is less likely to commit a crime if he/she is potentially being monitored. Recently on the twelfth anniversary of the Columbine tragedy, a man planted pipe bombs throughout a Littleton, Colorado shopping mall. It was through surveillance cameras that the perpetrator was identified.
Safer in school?
The most recent data from the United States Department of Education reveals in the 2007-2008 school year nearly 52 percent of public schools, had surveillance systems. Nationwide, enrolled students totaled approximately 55.6 million in pre-kindergarten through grade-twelve. Out of that group there were 22 school related violent deaths or 15 homicides and 7 suicides. If employees were included, the death rate would increase to 38. Outside of school, according to the most recent statistics from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005 among all teens, homicide was the second leading cause of death of 2076 children killed between the ages of 15 and 19 (number one is unintentional injury). The suicide among that age group was the third leading cause or 1613 teenagers perished by their own hand. And according to the Department of Education, a child is 50 times more likely to be murdered and 150 times more likely to commit suicide away from school. The Department of Education notes that children are safest in school compared to outside of school, however that doesn’t mean strides shouldn’t be taken to prevent school violence and bullying.
During the 2007-2008 school year, 85 percent of public schools reported at least one type of crime such as theft or assault. Among students age 12-through-18, there were approximately 1.2 million victims of nonfatal crimes at school including 619,000 thefts and 629,800 violent crimes. Outside of school, the number drops to approximately one million non-fatal crimes. It was noted in the report that nonfatal crimes appear to be decreasing in and outside of schools among this age group for the past ten years. The 2005-2006 school year, reported 1.5 million victims of crime in school, compared to 1.2 million outside of school.
At an April board meeting Edelman said a study of the Boiceville site was conducted through BOCES by the New York State Center for School Safety. Building safety concerns included unsecured exterior doors, insufficient guest and visitor procedure and lack of security camera system. “According to Ulster BOCES we’re probably the only secondary building in the county that doesn’t have a system,” Edelman said. Onteora district Middle/High School has around 805 enrolled students or 16 students per camera. Edelman states there is no specific safety concern, but instead the cameras are part of a whole ongoing safety initiative.
Edelman listed other climate and culture prevention measures for students such as no name calling week, day of silence, go green, diversity day and peer leadership programs. Edelman said troubled students have a range of counselors including social workers, psychologists, and guidance counselors and nursing staff. Drug, Alcohol, and risky behavior prevention programs are taught in Health class in grades 8 and 11. Assemblies and presentations for both students and parents include awareness of Internet safety, cyber-bullying, drug, alcohol, and domestic violence prevention. Building safety includes, fire/lock down drills, monitors, code of conduct and building crisis team.
Edelman has requested the return of a school Resource Officer that was once supplied by the Ulster County Sheriffs Department, but has since been eliminated due to State budget cuts. ++