Electronic surveillance: coming to Gilson Middle School
District moves to revise hidden camera policy before the school starts in Sept.
Smile. You might be on camera.
That is the word from Valdez City Schools as the board of education prepares to scrap its old policy that forbade the taking of any and all secret video on district property and replaced it with three pages of rules governing the use of such devices.
The first reading of the proposed policy came during a board of education meeting Monday night.
The district’s current policy is short and to the point.
“The Valdez City Schools does not condone or authorize any surreptitious or hidden audio or video recording,” the old policy said. “Any electronic surveillance will be properly placarded, posted, and noticed.”
The policy was short and sweet, and was put in place in the aftermath of the discovery a number of video cameras found secretly recording areas in the old Gilson Junior High and Valdez High Schools. The video was feeding into laptop computers and were allegedly placed by maintenance employees who were spying on underlings.
District employees were shocked and outraged at the discovery. Some claimed insult to injury when it was discovered that not only was there was no district policy in place forbidding such practices but it was also legal under city, state and federal laws.
The new Gilson Middle School, which will open its doors to students for the first time this coming September, has security cameras built into it.
“The new school has new innards in it so to speak,” board member Dolores Gard said at the beginning of discussions on the new policy.
The board said they did not know of any other surveillance cameras currently in use in any of the schools or other district property, but that could change in the future.
“The board agrees to allow the use of electronic surveillance to promote the safety and security of students and staff, the protection of district property, deterrence and the prevention of criminal activities and the enforcement of the district rules and policies,” the proposed policy says.
It forbids secret audio surveillance but allows for all manner of video, including tapes, CDs and other forms of video recording.
The three-page policy spelling out when hidden cameras can be used, how district students, employees and visitors will be noticed when surveillance cameras are in use and a chain of custody for any video recorded. It also sets criteria for the handling and storage of video surveillance – and who is allowed to view it and when.
It also gives school principals the lion’s share of responsibility for enforcing the rules governing the use of electronic surveillance in their school buildings.
It forbids copying of any video without a court order or subpoena, forbids public viewing of live or recorded video and calls for a minimum 31 day retention period of all surveillance.
The board asked for minor changes in the wording of the new policy and said Administrative Rules (AR) should be set to include the superintendent in a number of areas governing the chain of custody – and potential viewing – of gathered electronic surveillance.
“I just don’t want it to be too much up to one person,” board member Dr. Kathy Todd said.
Superintendent Jim Nygaard said district administration would develop an AR to address the issue.
The policy was developed by Nygaard, who said he reviewed other district policies in Alaska as a guideline.
“My intent is to have the board make a run at this,” he said, adding that it will be reviewed by the school district’s attorney, John Sedor.
It will come before the board for a second reading at its next regular meeting August 11.
The original proposed policy before board edits is available online at http://www.valdezcityschools.org . Wait for the page to fully load, then click Board of Education on the menu tab at the top of the page. On the center of the page under meetings, click on the Packet link to find the text of the policy, along with all items on the agenda from Monday night’s regular meeting.