PT school district considers security camera policy

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Where school security cameras may be located, who is allowed access to video recordings and how long recordings are kept are a few of the issues that are to be addressed by a proposed Port Townsend School District policy on new school security cameras.

The policy, “6505P – Video Security on School District Grounds or Property Camera Location, Operation and Control,” is to be discussed by the school board this month, said John Polm, superintendent of the district.

“The policy really just authorizes the use of video cameras,” Polm said during an Oct. 19 school board meeting.

The district recently installed security cameras at Port Townsend High School and Blue Heron Middle School. Salish Coast Elementary, which is now under construction, also is slated to have security cameras.

“And, of course, the focus is not to do surveillance. It’s for safeguarding district personnel, visitors, property, etc. And then the actual procedure tries to be pretty comprehensive: assurances about how the video images are stored, assurances on access, assurances on how those images might be used, when they might be part of a permanent record, like in a case of student discipline or staff discipline. Or a … violent incident that the police would require video from,” Polm told the board.

Polm said he discussed the proposed camera policy with Kirsten Bledsoe, a school counselor at Blue Heron, and with other employees. The proposed policy is based partly on one set by the Everett school district, and also on other policies out of state.

“There weren’t very many in Washington that had policies,” Polm said.

“But Everett does, and so Everett was one I kind of gleaned quite a bit from.”

The proposed policy specifies that cameras are not to be allowed in classrooms, but that they would be permitted in spaces that might be used as classrooms, such as the library or hallways.

“The spirit of it was, we aren’t turning it on in those classroom areas where teaching is going on traditionally,” Polm said.

According to the proposed policy, the cameras may be used in any location “where there is no reasonable expectation of personal privacy.”

There are to be no cameras in classrooms, restrooms or locker rooms.

Student, staff and parent handbooks and signage are to notify readers of the presence of cameras.

Access to video recordings would be limited to those authorized by Polm, including building principals, deans, the school resource officer, the technology director and the maintenance manager.

According to the proposed policy, recordings may become part of a student’s or staff member’s personnel record in cases of discipline or other appropriate causes, and recordings are only to be kept 30 days unless the superintendent determines the files are needed for health or safety reasons or because of a court order.

The video files would not be used for evaluation of personnel, he said.

A copy of the proposal has been sent to an attorney for review, Polm said.

STUDENT REACTION

Port Townsend High School senior Emmett Erickson said the school could have spent the money for security cameras on “more important things.”

“We don’t really have a problem with crime or anything on campus as far as I’m aware of,” Erickson said.

“I mean, I know people will, like, smoke or stuff, but that’s really it. I feel like they could have spent money refurbishing the buildings or getting new equipment for the classrooms or something,” he said.

Do the cameras make him feel safer?

“I guess,” Erickson said, adding that he thought the cameras would definitely deter illegal behavior.

“I’m sure they could catch who did it with all these cameras,” Erickson said of potential illegal behavior.

Erickson said the cameras did not make him feel self-conscious.

“I just don’t worry about it, because I don’t do anything [wrong],” he said.

Fellow student Tiger Varah, a junior, said the cameras might have some benefits.

“I think that it’s good that they will be able to look at footage if people are being bullied or something,” Varah said. “But I think it was a lot of money spent on something that could have gone to something a lot more useful around campus.”

She said the cameras haven’t changed how safe she feels at school.

As for the potential to deter vandalism, “Personally, I haven’t noticed any vandalism other than in the bathrooms,” Varah said.

She does not feel self-conscious with the cameras present.

“No, because I usually think, if anything, they don’t just constantly watch the security footage,” Varah said.

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