School Board Votes 4-3 to Install High School Security Cameras
Board split down gender lines on a plan that will put 65 additional cameras in Groves and Seaholm this fall.
Tuesday night, the Birmingham Board of Education approved a plan 4-3 to install 65 additional security cameras in the halls and common spaces of the two high schools. Trustees Geri Rinschler, Susan Hills and board president Lori Soifer voted against while Michael Fenberg, Robert Lawrence, Christopher Conti and Steve Scheidt voted for the plan.
The plan’s proponents say the cameras will help deter crime, solve disciplinary issues sooner and give administrators a better idea of what’s going on in the building. According to Soifer, it sends the wrong message to students — we don’t trust you.
“Our schools are a bastion from the surveyed world,” she said at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday. “Putting in cameras reinforces the climate of distrust.”
The plan includes:
- A $166,182 contract with Peripheral Vision, the company that already provides the 42 cameras currently installed at the entryways and in parking lots.
- Video footage will be sent to a central server on a network separate from the rest of the district, making the footage secure and only accessible to a limited number of people.
- The district’s current technology policy allows for live monitoring and 30-day storage of taped material.
- The only people with access to the tapes are building administrators (principals, assistant principals and deans), athletic directors, the district’s police liason officer, two members of the technology support staff, assistant superintendent for educational services Paul D’Angelis and assistant superintendent for human resources Jon Dean.
- Video footage is not used for staff evaluations, to procure audio records or violate students’ rights to due process.
The discussion about security cameras was spurred by incidents of racism at Seaholm in April. Superintendent David Larson said at the time that administrators wanted to be deliberate in their decision to install cameras, keeping student privacy a priority and using cameras only to deter crime.
Hill said that installing cameras so soon after the Seaholm incidents gives the impression that the problem is solved, but it’s not.
“I think there is intolerance in the building. I think there is racial tension in the building,” Hill said. “The problem is not solved (with more cameras). The problem has been identified, but it’s going to take a lot of work in the meantime.”
Still, the majority of board members were in favor of installing the cameras. Fenberg said what convinced him was attending the parent meetings at Seaholm following the discovery of the racist graffiti. Parents were frustrated the schools weren’t using cameras more extensively.
“This is a tool we have at our disposal that we’re not even using,” he said.
According to Larson, the subject of security cameras came up two and a half years ago during a board study session. At that time, the board decided to forego installing more cameras as a way to promote the district’s Character Education program.
Larson assured trustees that the cameras would be treated with discretion and used primarily in disciplinary cases. At a public hearing on the cameras June 7, Groves principal Fred Proctor and Seaholm principal Terry Piper said they rarely monitor the tapes they have now.
“It’s a need-to-know situation,” Proctor said. Piper added, “There’s too much else to do anyway.”
Work installing the cameras begin this summer with the projected expected to be finished by September or October.