Security cameras at Oak Park middle schools a plus, say principals

Administrators at both Brooks and Julian are happy with the devices

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

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.

Reader Comments

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Posted: March 6th, 2012 12:52 PM

Dead Kennedys, I'm a very liberal person, and completely against the oppression of individual rights, but you are over simplifying complex social issueS the same way the conservative would with the opposite extreme. Sometimes it's best to put political agendas and teen angst aside to make room for decisions that will actually make positive developments for our children.

Dead Kennedys  

Posted: March 6th, 2012 9:50 AM

Cameras in the halls, No windows just brick walls. Pledge allegiance to a flag, now you will obey!


Posted: March 6th, 2012 8:01 AM

@4, I can't explain the statement in such a short amount of space other than to say that Oak Park's lack of diversity in opinions and failure to adapt to the 21st century, dumping political correctness has become a hinderance to operating the Village at every level.


Posted: March 6th, 2012 7:59 AM

@ Rez, I'm not criticizing the cameras. I'm just pointing out that they are the natural consequence of what is happening in the Village. Your suggestions are good ones.

Father of 4  

Posted: March 6th, 2012 7:17 AM

OPRFDad -- Can you explain the term "grand Oak Park social experiment", please?


Posted: March 6th, 2012 12:11 AM

Continued. Another very good option would be to hold parents accountable for their kid's actions. Fine the parents, and you will see parents left, right and center taking an interest in how their children behave in school. Have parents of problem students donate a day of work at the school a week, and you will also see a turn around in the child's behaviour. Some of these kids do what they do because they have been allowed to their whole lives.i it's time parents and students take responsibility


Posted: March 6th, 2012 12:04 AM

OPRFDad, I'm not in complete disagreement with you, but what would you propose? Getting rid of all the students that don't do well is not a solution, and certainly not one that would be entertained in Oak Park, so things like video cameras, enforcing rules and structures that would hold students accountable for their actions are steps in the right direction.


Posted: March 5th, 2012 12:41 PM

If the school district doesn't want to deal with the underlying issue - deteriorating education resulting from the grand Oak Park social experiment - then the cameras are what you get.


Posted: March 2nd, 2012 3:52 PM

Students, kids and young adults (and many adults for that matter), need the kind of structure that rules bring, and is a great way of enforcing them. This one way of enforcing accountability, where young adults know that their actions in society will be accounted for... The idiots worried about privacy are missing the positive impact such structures can have... Now students will learn that if you commit a crime, you are being watch, so you can't blame you action on anyone but you.

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