Those security cameras that District 97 has talked about putting up in the middle schools for the past year may become a reality by early January 2010.
The proposal to install more than 50 devices at both Brooks, 325 S. Kenilworth, and Julian 416 S. Ridgeland, was presented by Supt. Constance Collins at last week’s Board of Education meeting. The board discussed the proposal but took no action. As standard practice, the board discusses such measures before approving them at a subsequent meeting. Concerning the security cameras, the board will take a vote at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
The district has a $90,000 place-holder in its budget for the cameras, an amount that could decrease depending on the bid the district receives for the devices, school officials said. A total of 58 video surveillance cameras would go near stairwells, entrances and other high-traffic areas throughout the buildings. A policy concerning the devices would need to be created and approved by the school board, Collins said. After that, the district will go out for bids. Collins added that the district will seek input from parents and the community before they’re installed, which will occur sometime in January.
Collins said both middle school principals – Brooks’ Tom Sindelar and Victoria Sharts at Julian – as well as staff and the PTOs at the two schools, have expressed support in installing security cameras.
“We know that our schools are used by a lot of people in the community,” she said. “As we try to monitor what goes on in the schools, it’s difficult to be in all places at all times.”
Locations of the proposed cameras for the first floor of Brooks and Julian.
Oak Park Elementary School District 97
The superintendent maintained that building staff and administrators will remain the primary “eyes” in the schools.
“That is something that will continue. But we do find that when we do have buildings as large our middle schools; with things being the way they are in society today, that it is a different world,” Collins said.
Along with providing security, Collins noted that the cameras could help improve student behavior and cut down on theft and property damage. Having the devices, she added, could also benefit staff and administrators. Collins noted a recent incident in one of the middle schools where a students’ musical instrument came up missing; there was a dispute among the kids about what happened to the instrument. The student said it was taken from their locker while the other kids said the student misplaced it. The instrument was eventually located, but much time was spent by staff dealing with the incident.
“When you have different stories, then you really don’t know exactly what happened or where someone may have put something,” Collins said. “The amount of time that it took in dealing with upset parents, as well as really trying to find out what happened, a lot of hours go into the type of work. So we really want to see if we can free up some of that time for our administrators to be in the classrooms.”
Collins said she will bring the proposal back to the board next Tuesday for approval. She stressed that the district would like to have these cameras in place as soon as possible. In addition, the buildings do not need to be closed during installation.
Board members supported installing the devices but had questions and concerns. Board President Peter Traczyk said he didn’t see a need for live monitoring by staff. Under the district’s proposal, the cameras would be on a continuous recording. But according to Sharts -who, along with Sindelar, attended last week’s board meeting – it might be necessary to have access to a live feed for a specific purpose. She recalled an incident within the last month where someone was caught trying to steal a bicycle. Another example, Sharts explained, would be checking the security monitor around lunch time to make sure kids aren’t lingering in the building where they’re not supposed to be.
Members have briefly addressed likely concerns from some parents about student privacy issues. Traczyk insisted that the purpose of the cameras is about maintaining safety. He noted that a board policy should spell that out.
“I think a policy like this that explains how the system will be used would diffuse and answer many concerns people have,” he said, “mainly privacy and those kinds of ‘Big Brother’ concerns; that there’s someone at a screen staring at my kid all day.”