ACLU Protests Cameras in Colorado Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
January 25, 2001 12:00 am

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BOULDER, CO — The Boulder County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t want “Big Brother” watching high school students, The Daily Camera reported.

According to the Camera, the ACLU told the Boulder Valley School District on Wednesday that spending up to $840,000 for new security cameras in schools is unnecessary, calling the cameras ineffective and a violation of student privacy rights.

“We want to be sure the rights of privacy of students are protected,” said Judd Golden, the vice-chair of the Boulder County chapter. “Security cameras have not proven to be the right approach. We think it’s a mistake.”

But Boulder High School Principal Chris King said the cameras are a resource for school officials.

Golden provided the Board of Education with a study detailing a decrease in violent crime in schools and outlining legal issues related to security cameras. Security cameras feed student fears, he said, but do little to increase safety.

“There’s no indication that there’s a need for this kind of prison-style security,” he said. “The message it sends to students is ‘We don’t trust you, and everybody is a suspect.'”

Golden wants the school district to ask a number of questions before deciding on security cameras, including where the cameras are located, who has access to the images and if students could be targeted for surveillance based on race, gender or other criteria.

The cameras are part of a school district security upgrade package that could cost up to $1.5 million. The price tag for the cameras came in between $480,000 and $840,000.

The upgrade in security measures is an effort to prevent minor crimes, such as graffiti on lockers, and tragedies, such as the Columbine shootings on April 20, 1999.

Golden said security cameras aren’t effective in preventing violent crimes like the shootings, pointing to the fact that Columbine had security cameras at the time.

“We have a videotaped record of violent crimes at Columbine,” he said, adding that schools should focus on ways to make more students feel like they belong instead.

The school district is trying out security cameras at Boulder High School through a $60,000 pilot project that began in the fall. School board members have said student reactions to the cameras are mixed.

King said the school’s 17 security cameras — two in the cafeteria and the rest outside — have created a safer atmosphere.

“We aren’t using them to watch students’ actively,” he said.

If a crime like vandalism occurs, he said, the videotape is pulled and watched. He also said it would be unlikely that the cameras would ever be placed in classrooms or the school library, where there already is supervision.

Golden, however, countered that security cameras create more problems than they solve.

He hopes to talk with school district leadership about the proposal, and added that student protests are likely.

“We plan to become very active on this issue,” he said. “There are too many unanswered questions.”

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