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Monday, September 19, 2011

Evans seeks community input on surveillance cameras in high schools

Sandy Evans, the Mason District representative on the Fairfax County School Board is seeking community input on a proposal to install surveillance cameras in high schools. Send your comments to Evans via email.

At a board work session last Monday, the county’s high school principals asked for permission to  install cameras inside their schools. The proposal states the principals “believe that these cameras serve as an effective deterrent that will reduce both the number and severity of incidents within our school buildings” and “will enable administrators to more precisely identify the participants in future incidents both in a more timely and a less disruptive manner.”

They argue that cameras could deter flash mobs and, if they had been installed in cafeterias last spring, school officials would have been able to identify the perpetrators of food fights that took place in several schools.

Some principals want surveillance cameras limited to the cafeteria. Others want them in “hot spots,” such as hallways and lobbies. No one is suggesting putting them in classrooms. Bathrooms and locker rooms would be off limits. The cost ranges from $8,000 to $120,000 per school, depending on how many areas would be covered.

“While the high school principals said they were unanimous in wanting this measure as a matter of safety and security in the schools,” Evans says, “others have argued that cameras would be an unwarranted intrusion and would just move problems to areas of the schools without surveillance.”

Evans voiced several concerns at the meeting. “When I asked if parent or student views had been sought on this idea, it turns out there had been no meaningful effort to get input nor any plan to do so,” she says. “This is simply too important a change in policy not to have full discussion by parents, students, teachers and others.”

Since the meeting, plans have been made to discuss the proposal at upcoming PTA meetings, and Superintendent Jack Dale discussed the proposal with the Student Advisory Council.

Evans is also concerned about the purpose of installing surveillance cameras and how their effectiveness would be measured. “Would this really be better at deterring incidents than having adults in charge throughout the school?,” she says. “Or is this just about catching and punishing?” If that is so, the school board should continue to implement reforms of the discipline process, including stronger parent and student notification procedures.

Evans also notes that surveillance cameras might run counter to the school system’s new emphasis on Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports as a means of encouraging positive behavior through reinforcement. 

School buses already have cameras, and Evans says cameras installed outside schools have been effective in deterring property damage and defacement. “On the other hand,” she says, “the school system piloted cameras in lunch lines a few years ago to reduce food theft, but there was no substantial reduction in theft, and the cameras were removed.”

Evans want to know how parents, community members, and students feel about surveillance cameras in high schools. Send your comments via email.


  1. As a civil libertarian, I am of mixed mind about this. On the one hand, I am opposed to the increasing surveillance in all our waking moments. On the other hand, cameras don't just help nab the guilty; they also help the innocent and wrongly accused prove that they weren't the one. So on balance, I think I'd support this - but only in cafeterias.

  2. The comment above is compelling. One thing is for sure, FCPS will likely record things that probably would be considered child pornography. Now this system is going to have to be secured like no one's business given the content of the video and most importantly the age of the subjects in the video.

    Perhaps it would be worthwhile, I have 3 kids that will going to high school in a school with a well publicized gang problem, not that every high school in Fairfax doesn't have this problem thanks to the county leadership in the early 2000's. If this makes them more safe, perhaps it is a good thing.

  3. Tens of millions of dollars (up front, more cost later) for invasive cameras that have already proven to be ineffective?

  4. I believe in a free and open society. I do not believe that our children should experience anything less. Video surveillance contradicts any notion of free and open... Besides, Given FCPS' track record with discipline measures, I shudder to think what they may do with surveillance footage.

  5. We have video cameras in my school, in halls and cafeteria. They are used to get a more accurate picture of particular discipline situations; no one has the time or inclination to sit and watch hundreds of students moving through the halls. As someone who strongly support civil liberties, it has been difficult to see how this has reduced the liberties of students in what are, in essence, public spaces.