The Fairfax County School Board adopted a measure Dec. 15 to permit surveillance cameras inside high schools to deter vandalism, bullying, and the kind of food fights that erupted at West Springfield and other high schools last year.
Mason school board member Sandy Evans was one of four board members who voted against the resolution, along with Daniel Storck of Mt. Vernon, Stuart Gibson of Hunter Mill, and at-large board member Tina Hone.
The resolution calls for high school principals to demonstrate community support before installing the cameras, which would be limited to cafeterias and hallways. They would be prohibited in classrooms, locker rooms, and restrooms. Schools already have outdoor cameras.
“This proposal sends us down the wrong path,” says Evans. “Rather than creating an atmosphere of respect and trust, it says, ‘we’re watching you.’ It says we expect bad behavior and are going to be darned sure to catch it on tape. But will we? Staff who are bringing us this proposal acknowledge that there is no evidence that surveillance cameras are effective, despite all the many jurisdictions that are using them. No evidence.”
“We have no quantifiable goal here,” Evans continued. “With the outside cameras, we did—reduce graffiti, vandalism, and break-ins. Here we have a vague idea that it might deter bad behavior in certain areas or, if not, catch culprits. But only if the culprits comply by misbehaving where we’re pointing the cameras, not if they go to the next hallway.”
Last fall, Evans called for community input before board action on the proposal, which had been submitted by the high school principals association. The Fall Church High School principal clearly does want surveillance cameras, and parents at a community dialogue session there were supportive. Parents at an Annandale High School PTSA meeting in October expressed mixed feelings on the issue but the PTSA later opposed the cameras. The Stuart High School community was split on the issue
The board rejected an amendment by Stork to postpone the vote to give board members more time to research the pros and cons of indoor surveillance cameras. Evans said she will bring up the measure in 2012 after the new board is sworn in. Six of the 12 board members will be new next year, following the November elections.
The cameras could cost $881,000, and Evans believes the money would be better spent elsewhere. “Parents are being told it’s for their child’s safety,” she says. “But these cameras will at most give a false sense of security. They can’t replace adult supervision, and they certainly can’t replace a safe and respectful environment.”