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Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2013 12:00 pm

Board proposes 24-hour hall recording at Harwood

Video cameras have been documenting what happens inside and outside at Harwood Union High School since mid summer.

But, once the school year began last month, the eight interior cameras were shut off during hours when students and staff are in the building, between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. That practice will change if a new video surveillance policy backed by the majority of the school board is formally adopted this fall.

The new policy — crafted in its final version at a board meeting last Wednesday, Sept. 18 — would allow the interior cameras to record 24 hours a day. The six exterior cameras already operate that way.

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposal at its next meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

“There is a balance here between our safety and our liberties,” board member Chris Koliba of Duxbury said. “We need to hear from the community on both sides of the equation.”

Board members are also welcoming comments from parents, staff, students and the public on the change by email or telephone. Their contact information can be found online at harwoodunion.com/harwood2013.

Stop-gap operating rules for the cameras were put in place at a June meeting when the board approved the purchase of the $35,000 system. The new policy fine-tunes that language.

It was based on similar policies from Mount Mansfield Union High School and the Burlington School District and a sample policy from the Vermont Americans for Civil Liberties Union, as well as Harwood’s pre-existing policy for video recording on school buses, said David Goodman, a Waterbury board member.

Goodman drafted the policy, which originally would have continued operating the interior cameras only during non-school hours. He was the only one of six board members to vote against amending what he wrote to allow continuous 24-hour recording.

“The policy as written strikes a good balance that I am comfortable with,” Goodman said, introducing his draft. “It expresses that we have some level of trust that people in the building will conduct themselves appropriately.”

However, school principals Lisa Atwood and Amy Rex and school superintendent Brigid Scheffert argued for allowing 24-hour recording inside. Atwood said there have been several incidents during school hours over the past few years when having video footage would have helped resolve the problem.

“When there is an incident that is potentially harmful to another student or the building and you’ve exhausted all other opportunities to find out what has gone on, it’s nice to have that as a backup,” Rex said.

The other board members said they understood and supported that request.

There was general agreement among the administrators and board members about other aspects of the surveillance policy:

• Students, staff and parents must receive annual written notice about the use of security cameras.

• Cameras may not be installed in classrooms, the staff break room, restrooms, athletic locker facilities “or other areas where students, staff or others have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

• No camera will be monitored in real time except for the front door camera unless “an imminent health or safety threat is present as determined by an administrator.” The recordings are made only for the review of past happenings.

• Footage is confidential and can be viewed only by the direct authorization of the superintendent or her designee and can only be viewed in the presence of a Harwood principal or the superintendent. The school board must be alerted to any authorized review and be told who viewed the footage and why.

• The recordings will be retained for 30 days in a secure location. After that, they will be deleted or destroyed unless an authorized request for viewing has been made. Recordings made through the summer can be retained until Sept. 15.

Board members asked administrators to distribute the exact wording of the policy through the student bulletin and online.

An introduction to the policy made clear that the cameras are set up “primarily to protect school district property and assets from theft and vandalism.” In general, they will not be monitored and do not have the coverage to fully protect students or staff from “being violent or property crimes.”

“We don’t want to give the impression that we flip a switch and we are all-seeing and all-knowing,” Goodman said. “Our view is limited.”

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