The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Hidden cameras subject of meeting

Board work session called for upcoming Monday night

 

Source: Valdez City Schools website

Custodian Supervisor John Vergere

A long awaited meeting between school administration, the board of education and the public to air out details of the cameras found hidden in Valdez High School and Gilson Junior High will be held Monday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Valdez High School cafeteria.

“Obviously we need to talk about some lessons learned,” Jacob Jensen, district superintendent, said during Monday night’s school board meeting. “I think sooner would be better.”

School board member Anita Fannin, who appeared at the meeting telephonically, asked to hear a synopsis of the investigation surrounding the April 17 discovery.

Jensen declined, citing a need by administration to consult further with the district’s legal council before issuing a final report.

Earlier during Monday night’s meeting, teacher Kip Norris expressed frustration that the issue had not yet been address by the board.

“This camera business started nearly a month ago now” he said, “That’s in my workplace and I’m concerned about that.”

Norris and other educators at Gilson Junior High were shocked and outraged to learn janitorial supervisors had planted a hidden camera in the ceiling tiles of the teacher lounge above a computer workplace, ostensibly in hopes of catching janitors goofing off on the computer rather than working. Outrage spread when a second camera hidden in a clock was discovered in a custodial closet at Valdez High School. It was later learned the same camera had been located in the teacher lounge at the junior high days before it was found at the high school.

“The silence concerns me,” Norris said. “I think an open, frank discussion would be a beneficial thing.”

Norris expressed these concerns during the meeting when the board hears public comments on items not on its agenda and board members are allowed to respond to the comments at the time of testimony.

“It’s a big deal,” Norris said.

At least one parent was also concerned and frustrated by a lack of progress on the issue.

“I agree with Mr. Norris,” parent Ruth Black told the board. “I don’t see you guys taking this seriously.”

Black expressed disappointment at the amount of time that has lapsed since the discovery of the cameras and a board response, and also criticized the district for not notifying parents of the discovery and instead allowing them to learn of the scandal from news sources.

“You did not communicate directly with the parents at all,” Black said.

An investigation by Valdez police found no evidence of a crime or images of students on the numerous video discs and computer images. However, the fact that cameras had been hidden in the teacher lounge caused great concern amongst educators due to the fact that some state standards testing had occurred in the lounge.

The fact the board canceled its scheduled meeting of April 23 due to a lack of a quorum did little to reassure outraged faculty members and concerned parents that the privacy of teachers and students had not been violated.

Custodian Supervisor John Vergere and custodian Steve Winn tendered their resignations to Jensen Friday morning, April 20.

Valdez Star File Photo

GJH principal, Rod Morrison, points to where a clock that contained a hidden spy camera was positioned inside a VHS closet.

Further dismissals could be forthcoming according to sources close to the district that have not been authorized to discuss the matter in public.

Jensen said he was first shocked and then outraged when GJH principal Rod Morrison called him at home evening Tuesday, April 17 saying a custodian had called him reporting what she believed to be a camera lens hidden in a ceiling tile at the school.

The discovery of the second camera and the fact it had been placed in more than one location fueled speculation of a wider hidden-camera problem in the schools. The fact the computers that were hooked up to the cameras were in Jensen’s possession overnight before they were turned over to police did little to reassure outraged school staff.

The long awaited work session will be held at 7:30 p.m., Monday, May 21 at the cafeteria of Valdez High School.

 

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