Almanac

Schools - October 25, 2006

High school board OKs security cameras

by David Boyce

The Sequoia high school district's Board of Trustees has unanimously approved the installation of surveillance cameras in local public high schools, including Menlo-Atherton and Woodside.

The board acted Oct. 18 at the request of assistant superintendent Ed LaVigne, who had set aside about $500,000 in bond money for the job a couple of years ago when school principals let him know that they wanted cameras on campus.

The recent violence in schools across the country "just reminded me that we have this request," Mr. LaVigne said in an interview.

Board president Gordon Lewin noted in an interview that he "wasn't about to second guess the principals' views on this matter."

The cameras may be up and running by March. Image data will be sent over school computer networks and be available to administration staff at their computers and stored on a digital video recorder, Mr. LaVigne said.

"We're not going to have anybody where they're paid to sit and watch," Mr. LaVigne said. "No body has that kind of time in a school setting."

Asked if surveillance cameras could create a culture of fear, Mr. LaVigne replied: "I don't think it's going to create a culture of fear because after a week, kids are going to stop paying attention and go about their business."

"I think what (cameras) will probably do is stop kids from committing a random act of violence," he said. "Probably it will prevent vandalism. Maybe it will help prevent bullying."

On the occasion of a fight between students, with images to examine, administrators may be able to get a better handle on who started it, he said.

Mr. LaVigne said he has heard no complaints so far about the plans. "I think most parents will be really pleased," he said. "As a kid you make mistakes. That's part of being a kid. Our job is to help kids learn from their mistakes."

Not new at M-A

At M-A, four security cameras have been up but not exactly running for about seven or eight years, Mr. LaVigne said. The software was "bulky," Mr. LaVigne said, and the cameras require the use of a video tape recorder, which cannot share images across a network.

The project will go out to bid, giving the district an opportunity to compare proposals, have a test run, and figure out how to address security on campuses that tend to be 35 to 40 acres in size, he said.

"We don't want to rush into it and make a mistake," he added.

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