When students and teachers return to Bedford High School right after winter break, they are likely to notice something different on the interior landscape: security cameras.
Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang told the School Committee on Tuesday that he is accelerating the installation of most of the planned cameras by several months, using money originally targeted for outside security enhancements such as bullet-proof glass. The committee endorsed the approach.
Chuang said the key to his decision was the committee’s affirmative response to the proposed district-wide safety and security policy. The committee gave final policy approval on Tuesday.
“Given my understanding of what the real-time needs are, cameras are much more likely needed to be used” than reinforced building materials, Chuang said. “So, I recommend the ability for us to proceed – now that we have a policy in place – with cameras at the high school this year.”
Plans are to install them over the winter break.
The funds will cover about 75 percent of the planned surveillance equipment, Director of Finance Julie Kirrane noted, adding, “All the systems are scalable.”
Security cameras in the remaining three schools will be purchased and installed for the 2024-25 academic year if the $925,000 purchase is approved by Annual Town Meeting in March 2024.
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.”
Chuang said during an interview on Thursday that Facilities Director Ron Scaltreto has consulted with a vendor to confirm the timetable and other product details. Locations are being determined by school administrators and police, Chuang said, and “for security reasons, that is not something we should be specific about.”
The surveillance equipment is part of a five-year safety and security plan for the schools that began under Chuang’s predecessor, Philip Conrad. Chuang said he reviewed the safety report “and it became clear that there were different categories of prioritization. The main reason we were holding back on cameras was concern that we have a clear policy in place.”
Chuang on Thursday called last month’s account by BHS administrators about an incident that could have been deterred by cameras “pretty compelling.” That was “one of many examples” based on his interviews with BHS leaders. “I understand how difficult it has been to do their jobs, given the size of the campus and the number of students.”
He noted that all of the BHS lead administrators “came to Bedford from high schools that were equipped with cameras, and it has been a real challenge.”
“Why should we wait any longer, once the policy is in place?” Chuang continued. He said he consulted with people involved with the process – finance as well as administration – “and folks have agreed that it didn’t make any sense to wait longer.”
Although live monitoring is “at the discretion of the school administration,” Chuang said on Thursday that in practice, video will be reviewed when there is a need. “We don’t have the capacity nor the desire to live monitor,” he said, except “in certain occasions at certain times.”
“As we begin implementation, we will be developing procedures so everyone is clear about the process so folks will know they’re in place,” Chuang said.
Scaltreto acknowledged that 22 percent of the planned equipment cannot be absorbed by available funds, and installation of the remainder is “a discussion we are going to have with the BHS team. A lot of these cameras offer a lot of coverage.”
The external security steps that are being shelved for now were agreed upon at a School Committee meeting in June – measures that would focus on deterrence of entry by vehicle, fortification of doors, and expansion of cameras identifying visitors.
Chuang said on Wednesday he labels such steps “hardening measures,” noting, “I am 100 percent certain we will need to use communication tools and security cameras tomorrow. Hopefully we are never going to have to test the hardening measures,” which “prepare you for the absolutely worst case” and can be disproportionately expensive. “You can spend millions of dollars outfitting a school with bullet-proof glass.”
Scaltreto told the committee that he has not identified supply-chain issues for cameras and equipment. If Town Meeting approves the funding for the other schools, he said, “I would anticipate by the start of next school year we will have a pretty robust system in place.”