Virginia School to Use Cameras To Keep Eye on Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
August 6, 2000 12:00 am

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FAIRFAX, VA — High school and middle school students in Virginia’s Fauquier County will be watched by electronic eyes this year after the installation of almost $60,000 worth of cameras over the spring and summer, The Washington Post reported

“We are following national trends to use technology to make our schools safer and provide us with reasonable intelligence information in case a crisis situation occurred,” Sheriff’s Capt. Fred Pfeiff told the Post.

Some Virginia school districts, such as Loudoun County, already use cameras. Others, such as Fairfax County, eschew the monitoring as an unnecessary intrusion. In addition to installing the cameras, Fauquier sheriff’s deputies began patrolling the county’s four middle schools early this year, joining the ranks of “community resource officers” stationed at Liberty and Fauquier high schools. And after several bomb threats were called into Liberty last year, deputies devised a new telephone system to track callers.

Officials said they welcomed the beefed-up security, even though there has been no serious violence at Fauquier schools in recent years.

There have been a handful of cameras at the schools over the last few years, and now they will be used more extensively. The cameras will be monitored by the deputies. Officials were cautious about revealing how many cameras will be installed and where.

Wallicia Gill, the incoming principal at Warrenton Middle School, said the cameras make practical sense. “Schools are typically very large places with lots of space. We are a school of 600 students . . . with a lot of ground to cover,” Gill said. She said the cameras would mean that hallways could be monitored without additional staff members.

“Why has our society progressed to the point that some of the things that perhaps we didn’t think about 25, 30 years ago, we now have to be concerned about? It’s a societal thing,” she said. “And a school is a mini-society.”

Loudoun’s high and middle schools have had cameras for years, with most of them trained on the facilities’ entrances, said Wayde Byard, schools spokesman. He said the Columbine shootings prompted officials to install cameras in Loudoun’s 36 elementary schools in the last year.

However, surveillance cameras at Columbine High School in Colorado failed to prevent the tragedy there, the ACLU noted.

Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, expressed concern about the installation of cameras.

“The cameras are teaching that government can and will invade your private space,” he said. “What it’s doing is, at an early age, undermining the development of a notion that we should be able to operate, generally, in private without the government looking in on us….When you do not have that privacy, you have lost a considerable amount of freedom.”

Fauquier officials said that the privacy concerns were overstated. “We’re not being invasive,” Gill said. “I don’t think that good kids have anything to hide.”

Source: The Washington Post, August 6, 2000

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