Computer speaker had hidden but inactive device
Jacob Jensen, superintendent for Valdez City Schools, says a third secret camera was found hidden in a computer speaker in the teacher lounge at Gilson Middle School, but the device appeared to have never been activated.
The discovery of the third camera occurred a week ago Monday, while computer technician Nathan Gussert was replacing the computer that had been targeted for secret surveillance by custodial staff last spring.
“It was consistent with the other cameras that were found,” Jensen said in a telephone interview a week ago Tuesday. In this case, it appears the hidden camera had not been activated and no additional video or evidence of additional secret photography has been found.
According to a district press release, Gussert “found an additional wire coming out of the speaker underneath the monitor.”
Gussert “immediately called Scott Porritt, Network Operations Manager, who went over to GMS. Scott then called Melissa Reese, Director of Education Services, who went over to investigate,” the press release said. “At the same time, …Jensen was in a meeting with Police Chief Comer about another matter, so when Melissa called the Superintendent, the Superintendent asked Chief Comer to stay in his office so that they could look at the computer together.”
Reese brought the entire computer to Jensen and Comer. The speaker was pulled off and the case was opened and a camera was found.
The three then “powered up the computer and searched the hard drive for any video recording software or video files, none were found,” the press release said. “This appears to be part of the camera incident that was investigated in April and May of last (school) year and not a new issue. As this camera was probably set up to monitor the person on the computer, it appears to be consistent with the "inappropriate rationale" of monitoring evening custodial computer use.”
The original discovery of a secret camera hidden in a ceiling tile over the computer and a second camera that had been inside a digital clock in the lounge cause widespread outrage amongst district staff and parents, and two staff members resigned within days of the original discovery.
Staff and parents were further vexed when it became apparent the hidden cameras were not only legal under state and federal law, but that there was no rule or policy in the school district to prohibit secret video or photography.
Last summer, the board of education for Valdez City Schools rejected a draft policy that banned most secret video surveillance, but would have allowed the superintendent to use secret cameras with board permission.
The board called for a flat-out district wide ban on any secret or hidden cameras on school properties. So far, no new policy to ban secret or hidden cameras has been brought before the board.
Jensen said a new policy to ban the practice will be forthcoming in a future school board meeting.
“We’re adamant against no covert surveillance,” he said.