Oak Park schools say no to security cameras in the classroom

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Despite the urging of one vocal District 97 parent, Oak Park school officials will not explore installing cameras in the district's classrooms.

Sinead Aylward, a parent of a special needs child, encouraged D97 school board members and administration at the board's regular May 8 meeting to pursue classroom cameras. She cited stories in the national media concerning special needs students being mistreated in their classrooms with one parent going so far as to place a recording device on the child to uncover mistreatment by staff.

Aylward said classroom cameras in D97 would not only protect kids but also teachers from false accusations of mistreating a child.

"There's nothing more damaging to a teacher's career than a bad rumor," she said, speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting. "We can protect everyone in an environment like that."

The district installed security cameras in common areas at Brooks and Julian middle schools prior to the 2010-2012 school year. In all, 58 devices were installed at each school in the hallways, stairwells and entrances. There were no plans to put them in classrooms, and such a move was advised against by the district's legal counsel, said Peter Barber, president of the D97 Board.

He addressed Aylward's concerns during the "Response to Public Comment" portion of the meeting. Barber noted that the Oak Park Teacher's Association had also expressed concern about classroom cameras being used improperly to evaluate teachers. Supt. Albert Roberts added that he wasn't opposed to cameras per se but expressed concerns about how they might be misused.

Aylward suggested that the principals would view specific footage related to any reported incident. But Roberts warned that the district could be bombarded with requests from parents to view footage, which the district could not allow due to state privacy laws.

Roberts maintained that D97 staff ought not to spend their time involved with monitoring cameras but instead with kids.

"I'm not against cameras but there are other issues that get in the way of the best possible use for them," he said.

Clarification: The D97 parent urged the district to install cameras in classrooms with non-verbal students unable to speak for themselves.

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