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By Terry Dean
When a student at Brooks Middle School in Oak Park reported his flute was stolen, it didn't take long for administrators to get to the bottom of what happened.
What might have taken several days to investigate can now be wrapped up in a much shorter time because of the school's security camera system. This is the second year for the middle school cameras, which were installed at both Julian, 416 S. Ridgeland, and Brooks, 325 S. Kenilworth, in the 2010-2011 school year. In all, 58 cameras were installed at both schools, in hallways, stairwells, gymnasiums, lunchrooms and outside entrances.
Only the principals and assistant principals have access to view the recordings in cases of thefts or other discipline incidents. The case of the missing flute was easy to solve, explained Brooks Principal Tom Sindelar, who recently gave Wednesday Journal a tour of their camera system, located throughout the building.
The student reported that the flute was taken from his locker. A few cameras cover the student lockers located along the main hallway on each floor.
"We talked to the student and asked what happened, and he said, 'I put my flute here,'" Sindelar said, putting his hand on top of a locker.
The student actually left the flute on top of his locker before dashing off to class, Sindelar said. It was, in fact, taken by another student but brought directly to the main office. In cases when items are stolen and never returned, such investigations could take days or even weeks, Sindelar said.
Sindelar can't say for certain if thefts have declined because of their cameras, but he believes the devices have positively influenced student behavior. Both middle school principals, including Julian's Victoria Sharts, supported installing the cameras in 2010 for safety and security reasons. Dealing with theft and other discipline-related issues, they noted, were a time-consuming endeavor for staff.
"It has really shortened the time it takes to handle these issues," Sindelar said. "The first thing is always to talk to the students, but it's nice to be able to go back and look at the recorder and say this is what happened. But anything involving the lockers, we go right to the cameras."
Both schools do report an improvement in overall student behavior and both principals say the cameras have played a role in that. Sindelar said the school made students and staff aware of the devices when they were first installed and reminded them again at the start of this school year.
A few parents expressed concern about their kids' privacy before the cameras went in. The school board adopted a policy concerning the cameras before approving them, determining who can view the footage. The devices are linked to a secured wireless software system that's installed only on the principal's and assistant principals' school computers. There's no audio recorded with the picture.
Parents are not allowed to view footage involving their kids, even if they request it, explained Chris Jasculca, D97's spokesperson. The cameras, he said, are governed by state privacy laws. The exception, he said, is if the footage is used as evidence in a discipline hearing involving a child, in which case his or her parent can request to view it in that circumstance.
The digital recording can go as far back as a month, Sindelar added, but he said no one is sitting there continuously watching video — there's no "live monitoring," he said.
Answer Book 2017
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.
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