Sunday, September 25, 2011

School Board Update

What is Your View on Surveillance Cameras  
Inside Schools?

Dear Friends,

Last Monday, Fairfax County high school principals brought to the School Board a proposal to allow them to install surveillance cameras inside high schools.

I would like to get your views on this proposal.

While the high school principals said they were unanimous in wanting this measure as a matter of safety and security in the schools, others have argued that cameras would be an unwarranted intrusion and would just move problems to areas of the schools without surveillance.

I voiced several initial concerns. When I asked if parent or student views had been sought on this idea, it turns out there had been no meaningful effort to get input nor any plan to do so.  This is simply too important a change in policy not to have full discussion by parents, students, teachers and others.

After the meeting, I talked with Fairfax County Council of PTAs President Ramona Morrow about making sure all PTAs were informed of this proposal, so they could get it out to their school communities. I also plan to contact Mason District PTA presidents to make sure they know about it and can inform their parents.

Since the work session, there have been some efforts to get input. Superintendent Dale mentioned the proposal when he spoke to the Student Advisory Council (consisting of student representatives from all high schools) at their first session last week and said he would like their views. Some principals plan to discuss the proposal at upcoming PTA meetings.

My second concern was about what the goal is here and how we would measure effectiveness in achieving the goal. If prevention of problems, how do we determine success? Would this really be better at deterring incidents than having adults in charge throughout the school?

Or is this just about catching and punishing? If so, at the very least we first need to complete our reform of student discipline procedures. We have not finished that process yet. We still need stronger parent notification procedures, so that parents are called as soon as a student is suspected of a serious violation, not after the student has been extensively questioned and provided a written confession. I also want to see our students better informed of their basic civil rights when they are accused of serious offences at school, ones that can get them recommended for expulsion or face criminal charges.

How does this effort fit in with the school system's new emphasis on Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) as a means of encouraging positive behavior through reinforcement? Some would argue this runs counter to that approach.

A bit of background on cameras in the school system. According to FCPS staff, we have cameras on all the school buses. We also installed cameras OUTSIDE schools to reduce vandalism and theft, and staff tell us this has been effective in deterring property damage and defacement. On the other hand, the school system piloted cameras in lunch lines a few years ago to reduce food theft, but there was no substantial reduction in theft, and the cameras were removed.

The most recent proposal was occasioned in part by food fights this spring in a few high school cafeterias, some of which caused significant damage.

The principals themselves have different ideas on what they want to do if allowed to install cameras. Some want them just in the cafeteria. Others want them in "hot spots," such as hallways and lobbies. None are suggesting putting them in classrooms, and bathrooms and locker rooms would be off limits. Cost ranges from $8,000 per school for just the cafeteria to $120,000 per school to have surveillance throughout the school (with cafeteria plus "hot spots" being somewhere in between).

and for data for specific high schools. There was also a piece on the front page of The Washington Post about it Sunday. 

As you can tell, I have several significant concerns about this proposal but want to know your views. Please let me hear from you by writing to me at

Thank you for your feedback.