Columbine changed everything.
Ever since the day in 1999 that Dylan Kiebold and Eric Harris enacted an all-out assault on Columbine High School during the middle of the school day, Americans have been demanding greater surveillance in the nation’s schools.
At the high school where I teach, there are no lockers: no place to hide anything and no place to loiter.
Across the U.S., public schools have implemented a host of measures to beef up security in recent years:
98% of schools require all visitors to sign or check in upon arrival
85% of schools lock or monitor their entrances during school hours
1% of schools have metal detectors in place that students pass through daily
6% of schools require their students to wear badges or picture IDs
23% of schools use drug-sniffing dogs to randomly check students
13% of schools do random sweeps for drugs and weapons (without dogs)
6% of schools require transparent book bags, or ban book bags altogether
49% of schools don’t provide lockers for students
Installing Surveillance Cameras
Installing security cameras, something which a lot of school administrators are now doing, may be the most controversial move in the effort to promote safety at schools, to keep tabs on people entering and leaving their schools, and to cut down on vandalism and theft.
The Novato Unified School District in Novato, California, has recently installed such a system in their two high schools. They placed all of their cameras in outside areas, in entrances and exits to the schools, hallways and parking areas. Their primary guideline was not to place any camera in any area where there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, so there are no internal cameras.
Recordings from the cameras are maintained for 14 days, and the only people who have access to them are an associate principal, the director of Internet Technology, and a district safety manager. If a law is broken, then the recordings will be made available to law enforcement agencies.
Installing cameras, however, can be controversial. There have been protests and legal action surrounding camera installation at schools nationwide, with many considering that their right to privacy is being violated. School officials counter that cameras are necessary to protect students.
Cameras For The Good
Peter Pochowski, secretary at the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers, believes that surveillance cameras are beneficial. From NPR:
But I think if we keep in mind we’re trying to alter the behavior of the students and the people that come to our schools, the outsiders that come around. And there’s an old saying that it’s not the severity of punishment that alters behavior, it’s the certainty of it.
If students who are misbehaving are certain that they’re going to get caught, then they won’t misbehave. And that’s what cameras do. They do one of two things. One is they deter behavior from happening; and number two, if it does, then they record it. So the intent is always to deter that type of behavior, and that’s one of the benefits of cameras.
From the moment you leave your home, for example in the city of New York — by the time you leave your home in the morning, and you return at night after work, shopping, dinner, theater, you’re on camera over 300 times throughout the city of New York.
Obviously, with a camera at the entrance to a school, you can see who’s coming in and out of the building, as well as what they’re carrying in, like a weapon, or if they’re leaving with something like a computer under their arm.
Cameras For The Bad
There are, however, other uses of cameras.
During a 2003 girls’ basketball game at Livingston Middle School in Overton County, Tennessee, visiting team members noticed a security camera in the girls’ locker room. It turned out the camera had recorded images of the team members in their undergarments when they changed their clothes. Several other students had been similarly videotaped over the previous months. The scandal led to Brannum v. Overton County School Board, a lawsuit on behalf of 24 students. In a key legal decision, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a school may not install security cameras inside locker rooms.
In the rush to improve safety for students, cameras are not the solution; they are just another tool for the toolbox. The belief that they will stop all the issues related to school security and safety is naive.
However, if used wisely, I believe they can help to promote a safe school environment.
What do you think?
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