Is Big Brother Watching Your Child?

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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Photo Credit: thinkstock


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

sorry but i went to public schools and these things are necessary. it's sad that they are, but it doesn't change things. Kids will find ways to get drugs and weapons and hurt each other, and the schools are responsible for the kids in their building. they have the right to do what it takes to protect those kids

Ness Watson
Inez w5 years ago

Come to the UK
We are the most watched nation in the whole of the world with more CCTV cameras per square mile than anywhere else.

a             y m.
g d c5 years ago


Carlene L.
Joy L5 years ago

GOOD that they are in schools maybe if they are teachers will not be able to abuse kids who can't fight back..

JT Smith5 years ago

Cameras in schools are basically a Catch-22. Having them in "public areas" like the building entrances and car parks will add at least some security in the same way that having them installed in businesses do. (Until last month, I worked as a delivery driver for a sandwich shop outside of Philadelphia. A couple months before I left the company, the owner decided to install cameras in ALL of his stores so that he could see all the goings on, both making sure that customers weren't stealing as well as making sure that the employees ALSO weren't stealing and were in fact actually working all the time rather than standing around. One of my coworkers complained that the cameras were an invasion of his privacy. In that instance, if you want privacy you need to stay home. In the case of a job, like that sandwich shop, you're on the company's time and not your own, so you really don't have much expectation of privacy all the way around. The cameras never bothered me as I did my best to keep busy in the store even when I wasn't delivering.) Of course, INSIDE the school becomes a tricky issue. Back in the day, teachers and hall monitors would do their best to make certain that everyone was behaving themselves. Cameras would certainly be a simple extension of that. BUT, students aren't stupid; they do know where they're not likely to be observed. And while vandalism is a problem, bullying tends to be a bigger one in terms of actual instances. And as long as there are "blind

Charles D.
Charles D5 years ago

Let's not forget about, THE DRONES that police are able to use.

Elaya Raja
Elaya Raja5 years ago


Alex H.
Alex H5 years ago

What a horrible,horrible environment our kids are now forced to be educated in! What sort of message is it sending to young easily influenced children? Is the world really that scary a place?Sometimes I wonder whether a lot of this stuff is just beaten up in the media to keep people apprehensive and frightened.One thing that is happening for sure,a break down of society,where people are scared of everybody,there is no compassion or respect,no duty of care towards one's fellows.Divide and conquer,that's the agenda,it seems.

Penny Bacon
.5 years ago

I think the cameras are a good thing, for protection.

Christine Stewart
Christine S5 years ago

Obviously, cameras in locker rooms/ bathrooms are creepy- but otherwise I agree with video cameras in any public part of school- I am sick of kids and even adults getting away with bullying students, when the victim can't "prove" the abuse existed. Caught on video, you jerk!