Surveillance Under Scrutiny at Harwood Union High

Surveillance Under Scrutiny at Harwood Union High

The school board is considering keeping cameras recording 24/7 to help prevent vandalism.

Surveillance policy is being watched at Harwood Union High School in Moretown. The school board is considering changing the amount of time the cameras are recording to all day long. Currently they only record outside of school hours.

Turning them on around the clock has some parents divided.

“Running surveillance cameras while students and staff and administrators are in the building is an invasion of collective privacy,” one Harwood Union parent said.

“Flashes of Newtown keep popping up in my brain and if this is something that will help prevent that I'm all for it,” another parent said at the school board meeting Wednesday night.

While the board meeting on Wednesday was sparsely attended the surveillance issue was topic number one and was dressed right away.

Board Chair Deborah Hunter led off the meeting by allowing members of the public to speak on the issue.

Rather not Record

Civil liberty advocates spoke up immediately, wanting to keep the cameras only recording outside school hours.

“When they're going to classes, going to library, going outside for phys-ed…that sounds pretty intrusive to me,” Vermont ACLU Executive Director Allen Gilbert told us before the meeting.

Gilbert and others at the meeting said that keeping the cameras recording during school teaches kids as much a lesson as any class.

He also compared the school board’s promise of only reviewing video if an incident occurs to NSA policies.

24/7 Surveillance

Most board members were in favor of around the clock recording and say it could help prevent future vandalism.

The cameras were installed this summer after vandals flooded the campus and caused a $100,000 headache for the school district. But it was hardly the only case.

In September two teenagers stole bows and arrows from the school then fired them into the yard of a nearby home.

Last winter a school bus was vandalized and one of the co-principal’s windows was broken.

Only in the case of the September burglary did police make an arrest.

“The problem in this case is catching people and holding them accountable or responsible for their actions,” Board Vice Chair Chris Koliba said.

Gilbert says he understands the school installing cameras after the vandalism but doesn’t think recording inside the school while kids are there is necessary.

The Policy

The school board says even if the cameras begin recording 24/7 they won't be monitored by a person during that time, excluding the camera on the front door. Instead the board says video will only be viewed if an incident occurs.

The school board also outlined practices for reviewing the video if needed, such as getting permission from the superintendent and only being viewed in the presence of a school principal.

The board also says the video will only be kept for a 30 day period and if it is not needed the recording “shall be deleted, destroyed or the media reused.”

The Vote

Only one board member, Dave Goodman, spoke out against the new recording policy. He motioned to let the interim video surveillance policy, recording outside school hours, stay in place for a school year.

The board voted against that measure. However the final decision will not be made until the next board meeting on November 20.

The board did agree to have an attorney review the video surveillance policy after Vermont ACLU Director Allen Gilbert suggested it would be helpful for the school.

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