Someone pulled a fire alarm at Bedford High School on Tuesday. A few hours later, Principal Heather Galante told the School Committee that “we went into our procedures,” vacating the building and launching an investigation with personnel from the Bedford Fire and Police departments.
Assistant Principal Thomas Casey noted that with the use of a camera, “something like today could have been solved in about five minutes.” Added School Superintendent Cliff Chuang, “Or it wouldn’t have happened at all.”
The anecdote highlighted the committee’s attention to Chuang’s draft of a proposed policy on the use of security cameras in the four schools. All the Committee members were supportive.
Galante said, “We will be beyond thrilled once it passes.”
The School Committee’s student representative, BHS junior Shreyes Shivappa, said the cameras are “definitely something that the majority of students want and need.”
Key provisions of the proposed policy are:
- “Security cameras may be used in locations deemed appropriate by the superintendent in consultation with school officials as well as local law enforcement and emergency response agencies;”
- “Use of video-only security cameras in the interior of buildings will be restricted to locations where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy;”
- “No video cameras will be placed in classrooms, locker rooms, restrooms, staff dining areas, or private offices.” The policy also covers exterior cameras.
- “Video recordings will be maintained for no more than 90 days and then deleted.”
- “Access to video recordings from security cameras shall be limited to school administrators unless the express permission of the superintendent is provided or required by court order or subpoena.”
The security camera policy results from several presentations and discussions during the 2022-23 school year, most of them in executive sessions. In a memorandum to committee members, Chuang pointed out that a review by a consulting firm last year determined that “the absence of security cameras in our schools was identified as a key risk to school safety.”
He also told the committee that “the vast majority of school districts in Massachusetts already have security cameras in place.” The draft policy is based on a model recommended by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, Chuang said.
As is its practice, the School Committee scheduled two readings of the policy before adoption. There were no significant changes suggested before the upcoming final appearance. The current draft is posted on the superintendent’s website.
The superintendent said if the board approves the policy at its next meeting, there will be time to submit hardware requirements for consideration by the Capital Expenditures Committee and they will ultimately be in place by the beginning of the 2024-25 academic year.
“This aligns with what is best practice in most school systems at this point,” Chuang said of the draft. “We believe it strikes the right balance,” in which “the use of cameras is safe and appropriate.”
“We try our best to make our students feel safe and secure through the relationships we build,” Galante explained. But “the actions of one or two individuals can impact the school climate.”
And the time invested by administrators, teachers, and the school resource officer is “not a good use of taxpayer dollars” especially when technology offers an alternative.
“It’s very appropriate to install cameras sooner rather than later,” she asserted. “You have no idea what this means to us.”
Casey, part of the schools’ critical response team along with Police and Fire Department representatives, said administrators across the district endorse the plan.
The false alarm was “one of countless examples,” Galante told the committee. “We had thefts also reported to us today,” when students were busy during team practices.
Committee member Sarah McGinley said that when she learned of the false alarm, “I first thought about safety. Then I thought of how much time the principals spent today trying to track down what was basically a prank.”
Chuang added, “Having cameras in place would have saved headaches and time today and perhaps even served as a deterrent.”
In answer to a question by member Brad Morrison, the superintendent said as the equipment is purchased and installed, “we will outline more specific procedures and training.”
McGinley asked if cameras could be placed in classrooms “as part of an investigation.” The superintendent said, “I haven’t heard of a circumstance where that level of targeted investigatory strength has been necessary. It can raise concerns about who would decide how to use that.”
In answer to a question from McGinley, Chuang explained that the camera recordings will be the school district’s property, “and it is within the discretion of the administration to respond to a request for access.”
“Does this have everything you’re looking for?” asked member Sheila Mehta-Green. Chuang praised his predecessor’s work preparing the draft. “It does include everything we need at the high school.”