By Robert Frank City editor
Everett School District officials are understandably touchy about the subject of video cameras. A few years ago, district officials installed one in the classroom of a rogue high school teacher. Herald stories reported on the hidden camera, though what it recorded, video and maybe audio, is officially lost. Then there was the school board meeting fracas, captured on video by board member Jessica Olson. Both instances were very embarrassing for the district’s officials, whose actions and decisions affect about 18,500 students in Everett and Mill Creek.
So a story about the school board seeking to install 400 to 600 video cameras in public areas of all the district’s K-12 schools was bound to be a touchy subject.
Under the subject line “July 1, 2013 correction of Everett Herald story,” Everett School District communications staff assistant Diane Bradford sent an email early this morning via the district’s InTouch email newsletter, writing that “Information in the July 1 issue of the Everett Herald misrepresents the intent and facts about district plans for enhanced video security systems in schools.”
Please note that The Herald corrects all factual errors. It’s our practice as well as our policy. Nobody from ESD has ever contacted the reporter or editors seeking any corrections in the story. The first we heard of any grievances is through the email, which went out at 12:10 a.m. to 9,229 ESD InTouch subscribers: parents, staff, and others in the community who have signed up. (Sign up here.)
Here’s The Herald’s story, which was referenced, but not linked to in the district’s email. We’re also including all of Bradford’s email. Please read both and draw your own conclusions. And if you’re free this afternoon, ESD is set to discuss the new video security system at its meeting today, set for 4:30 p.m. in the board room of the Educational Service Center, 4730 Colby Ave., Everett.
The email includes several complaints under the heading “What was misrepresented in the article?”
Let’s go through the issues in The Herald’s story that the district email seeks to correct or clarify.
1. The district writes: “There is no surveillance room or surveillance staff to monitor video cameras in the district. The data center room will securely house all of the district’s technology operations, including emergency response systems, computer networking and telephone and the hardware for security cameras.”
The headline on the story posted on Heraldnet.com reads “Everett School District plans video surveillance room” with the secondary headline “Everett school officials are planning a network of video cameras that will allow all schools to be monitored from the new administration building.” The printed headline reads: “District plans surveillance room,” with the secondary headline reading “Everett school officials are planning a network of video cameras that will allow all schools to be monitored from the new administration building.”
The story quotes ESD spokeswoman Mary Waggoner: “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.” That central location is in a room at the new administration building. If the district’s complaint is that the room will not solely be devoted to the video monitors, the precision of the main headline could be clarified. A call to the newsroom, and a discussion, are all that would take.
The article in no place reports that the cameras will be monitored by “surveillance staff”. Waggoner is quoted for clarity: “”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.”
2. The district writes: “Security video equipment at the CRC and in schools will be publicized with signs and will be installed only in public areas. Safety video equipment will not be in classrooms, locker rooms or bathrooms.”
The Herald article accurately reports from district documents: “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.”
3. The district writes: “District security video will not be used for teacher evaluations.”
The Herald article states: “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.” That first sentence could have been more clear. Someone may still videotape a teacher in the course of his or her day by standing in the classroom with a camera, according to Waggoner.
4. The district writes: “Video data falls under the same legal public records requirements as public documents and will be handled according to the law. Each public records request is handled on a case-by-case basis to ensure transparency and safeguard personally identifiable information as allowed by state law.”
The Herald reported: “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.” All public records requests are considered individually. It’s the law.
I hope this sets the record straight on what was reported. It’s a story that we will continue to follow.