By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
EVERETT — A surveillance system is planned in the Everett School District’s new administration building to allow officials to monitor what is happening in every school by fall of 2014.
“Given the need for ensuring safety on our campuses we need to update so it can be seen quickly in a central location as well as in each school,” said Mary Waggoner, school district spokeswoman.
While the cameras will allow for a quick response in emergencies, it raises privacy issues especially for a district that has come under fire in the past for a hidden camera in one of its schools.
Attorneys have reviewed the monitoring system guidelines “to make sure we’re doing what we can to ensure the safety of students, staff and the public in our schools and being mindful of people’s privacy,” Waggoner said.
On Tuesday, the Everett School Board is scheduled to consider a new policy and guidelines for the surveillance program.
A draft document says surveillance cameras in schools won’t be placed in areas where people expect privacy, such as locker rooms and restrooms. It also requires signs to be posted disclosing the presence of video cameras on school property.
The draft rules say that recordings won’t be viewed in public, but the district anticipates that people may seek access under open records laws. “Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis,” according to the document.
Only district employees, school administrators and law enforcement will have access to the live video monitoring.
“It won’t be like the movies with a bank of screens and someone watching them,” Waggoner said. But if an emergency occurs at one of the schools, it would allow the district to find out where school intruders are in the building.
The school district currently has 82 older video-monitoring cameras installed in school hallways and other public areas, Waggoner said. Most of the cameras are in middle schools and high schools. Those are accessible only at individual schools.
The program will begin with installation of the digital video monitoring equipment in the new administration building near Everett Memorial Stadium. The building will have 20 to 30 of the new digital cameras, Waggoner said. The school district expects to put this portion of the project out to bid this week .How much it will end up costing the district won’t be known until they get the bids.
With the administration building scheduled to open in October, “it seems an opportune time to put in a policy that clearly authorizes the district to have that kind of security on its facilities,” said Jeff Russell, school board president.
The building’s surveillance system will be used as a test site before similar equipment is installed at schools throughout the district, Waggoner said. Installation of the cameras in the district’s schools is expected to begin in the spring and wrap up in the fall.
There won’t be video surveillance monitoring of classrooms, Waggoner said, but classroom video could be used in teacher evaluations.
A clause in the district’s teacher contract bans the installation of a video camera in a classroom without prior written approval from the Everett Education Association.
The school district came under fire in 2008 after admitting it had secretly recorded video in the classroom of English teacher Kay Powers who was helping students publish an underground newspaper. They suspected Powers of violating school district policies. The district had a vendor install the hidden camera in May 2007.
Representatives of the Everett Education Association could not be reached for comment on the proposed surveillance system guidelines.
Cameras previously were installed on many of the school district’s buses. When school opens this fall, another 14 will be added for a total of 126 video cameras on school buses to help provide for safety and security, Waggoner said. That security system is separate from the one now used in schools.
Two other proposed policies, involving student searches and banning athletes from using marijuana also are scheduled for discussion on Tuesday.
The proposed policy change on student searches follows a controversy that erupted in March when a 14-year-old North Middle School student was called to the vice principal’s office and asked to log in to her Facebook account.
The school district said it was part of an investigation into cyber-bullying, but that it did not involve the student. The student’s parents and the ACLU called it a violation of her privacy.
The change would specifically allow an assistant principal to conduct searches of students and their property when they have reason to believe there’s been a violation of the law or school rules.
However, it does not address a request made in March by the ACLU for a new school district policy spelling out when school officials may or may not require students to give school officials access to the students’ online accounts.
Waggoner said the district and the ACLU are continuing to talk about the incident and most of those talks have focused on training for staff and students, Waggoner said. Staff training is scheduled for later this summer on when school officials can request access to students’ social media accounts, she said.
The ACLU attorney involved in the case was out of the office on vacation last week and was not reached for comment.
A proposed change to the district’s athletic policy comes in response to the state’s legalization of small amounts of marijuana for those 21 and older.
Currently, anyone involved in athletics cannot posses or distribute tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs. The change, if approved, would add marijuana to that list.
“We want to make it very, very clear, because of the potential confusion over the legalization of marijuana, that it’s still not allowed on school grounds and for our athletes,” Waggoner said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Everett School Board is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the district’s offices, 4730 Colby Ave. in Everett.