June 6, 2012 | Vol. 24 Edition 23

Hidden camera policy mulled by school board

Security assessment may recommend sanctioned cameras

The board of education directed Jacob Jensen, superidendent of Valdez City Schools, to present a new board policy to address surveleance cameras inside the district office and its three schools. The new policy will likely be modeled after a draft Jensen presented at a work session with the board two weeks ago where Jensen presented findings of an inhouse investigation conducted after two hidden cameras planted by custodial staff to spy on night custodians were found in Gilson Junior High and Valdez High School.

Valdez Star photo
Surveillance cameras in the coming years could be a feature in Valdez schools according George Keeney (right), Valdez fire chief, and Andrew Stevens, a planner for Alaska’s division of Homeland Security. The two addressed the school board Monday night as a prelude to assessing security risks to critical infrustructure in Valdez, including schools.

“So, this is a good starting point,” Steve Brockman, board president, said during discussions on the issue during Monday night’s board meeting, noting the draft policy will probably undergo some tweaking before it recieves board approval.

While school employees and administrators – including Jensen - were stunned at the discovery of the hidden cameras, many were even more surprised to learn they were not illegal by state or federal statute and that the district had no policy prohibiting secret video taping on school properties.

Jensen said the draft policy he presented two weeks ago is modeled on advice received by the district’s attorney, John Sedor.

The draft policy does not ban hidden survelleance devices or electronic monitoring, but lays out rules and curcumstance where electronic survellence may occur and if and when employees will be notified of the use of electronic survelleance devices. It also calls for the superintendent to notify the school board when electronic survelleance is used.

“If the superintendent ever authorizes surreptitious recordings pursuant to this policy, the superitendent shall inform the board at its next meeting,” the draft policy says.

Jensen also presented a handout with electronic policy considerations from Sedor.

Before the board discussed the proposed draft, George Keeney, Valdez fire chief, addressed the board urging caution against a flat-out ban on video survelleance, and told the board the city was in the midst of conducting a security assessment of Valdez infrustructure with the state’s Divisision of Homeland Security and it was highly likely the resulting report would contain a recommendation that security cameras be placed throughout the district’s schools.

“They’re actually using cameras and metal detectors at all the schools,” Keeney told the board. “It is something we’ll have to look at in our assessment.”

Andrew Stevens, a critical infrustructure and key resources planner for Homeland Security, addressed the board with Keeney.

“The cameras aren’t the only assessment,” Stevens told the board. He said his team, along with city emergency responders, would be conducting a security assessment throughout Valdez, including city properties and private companies that provide critical infrustructure.

“It’s probably one of the best deterents,” to bad behavior, Stevens said. He also stated he believes the pressence of cameras provides a sence of security to students. “If they know it’s there they will feel safer.”

Keeney agreed, saying electronic survelleance can stop school violence and curb bullying.

“We’ll be looking at using cameras in schools,” Keeney told the board. “We want to push Homeland Security to help us.”

When questioned by board member Anita Fannin, Keeney said the cameras would be monitored by police.

“We do need someone there to watch those cameras,” Keeney said.

Board member Dawn Farmer, a former teacher from North Carolina, said cameras in a school she’d taught at solved a crime and pinpointed culprits that had brought “gang paraphenalia” into the school.

“I see very good pros for it,” she said.

Others were less convinced and were hoping for answers to the original camera scandal. Rod Morrison, principal of the newly renamed Gilson Middle School, told the board he had been approached by a large number of parents expressing concerns that the board was not moving quickly enough to address parental concerns regarding the original spy cameras.

“What’s going to happen?” Morrison asked, “Where’s the board at” on the issue.

Chris Bennett, principal of Hermon Hutchens Elementary School said the timing of the Homeland Security camera proposal was unfortunate.

He told the board he had worked in schools with security cameras that had proved useful.

“It was mostly used to solve issues,” Bennett said, “disputes.”

He said the recorded video was only viewed on an as needed basis and called the idea of live survelleance by police “a little different idea.”

Jensen suggested that if monitoring cameras were put into schools, principals should be put in charge of the monitoring, and suggested a look into motion activated cameras for monitoring after-school hours. He also noted that monitoring cameras had been suggested as a deterent to past vandalism problems at the schools but the amount of damage done did not justify to expense of installing cameras at the schools.

Keeney said cameras would also aid emergency responders by allowing them to know who was inside a school building in the event of an emergency.

“We need to identify who’s in our buildings and where they’re at,” he said.

The board will have a first reading of the new camera policy June 25, during its next regularly scheduled meeting.

Keeney said the city was conducting a weeklong Security Vulnerability Assessment (SVA) and the district schools and building were to undergo assessments Tuesday.

The SVA program is run by the state’s Homeland Security division.

“SVA is used to identify a level of protection that is necessary to adequately mitigate identified risks from critical infrastructure assets,” said the division’s website, ready.Alaska.gov, “The first step to the community assessment process begins with the identification of critical assets within the community. The SVA team works through the infrastructure taxonomy provided by the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) to identify which assets should be included in the report.”

Keeney said Valdez underwent a similar assessment in 2004.

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