Plans to accelerate the installation of interior surveillance equipment in Bedford High School locations have been thwarted by a technicality.
Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang told the Bedford School Committee on Tuesday that the specifics of last March’s Town Meeting vote on school security infrastructure preclude pivoting to other kinds of hardware.
Chuang said he is exploring other possibilities, including an article on the March 2024 Town Meeting warrant allowing installation later this academic year. His intention was to install the cameras over the winter break.
Members were disappointed with the news.
“Almost every student wants cameras; that’s how we are going to feel safer,” said BHS junior Shreyes Shivappa, the student representative to the committee. Kim Howell, the non-voting member representing military households, added that the administration needs the flexibility to respond to a “very serious potential risk.”
Last month, the committee endorsed Chuang’s plan to accelerate installation of most of the planned cameras by several months, using money originally targeted for outside security enhancements such as outside door access and bullet-proof glass. He said his decision was consistent with the district-wide safety and security policy the committee approved in October.
Among the policy stipulations are:“Use of video-only security cameras in the interior of buildings will be restricted to locations where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy;” and “No video cameras will be placed in classrooms, locker rooms, restrooms, staff dining areas, or private offices.”
The surveillance equipment is part of a five-year safety and security plan for the schools. Chuang said last month 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.”
He said that 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.”
Chuang explained on Tuesday that the issue of warrant wording arose during his presentation to the Capital Expenditure Committee last week on proposed Fiscal 2025 security spending, including cameras at the other three schools.
The superintendent said he explained that the safety and security priorities came before completion of a consultant’s report. Nevertheless, he said, he was advised that the specificity of the language in the Fiscal 2024 capital article precludes rechanneling the spending.
“There are different levels of specificity in terms of language. I didn’t have a full understanding of how this operates at the town level,” said Chuang, who began as school superintendent on July 1.
“We all should have spotted this,” said Chair Dan Brosgol.
Committee member Sarah McGinley asked whose interpretation disrupted the plan. Chuang said the advice came from the town manager’s office, which administers the warrant articles on behalf of the Select Board.
“I am exploring options to use non-capital budget funds to see if we can add some modest level of cameras at BHS,” Chuang told the committee. He also is exploring the 2024 Town Meeting vote that could allow installation as soon as April.
“Town Meeting is the appropriate vehicle to ask for that flexibility,” he said.
The worst-case scenario will be waiting until the start of Fiscal Year 2025, which means the cameras would be ready for the new school year.
Brosgol pointed out that the annual budget for information technology gives school priority options, and this needs similar flexibility. “Of course, we’re disappointed.”
Chuang said that ironically, the hardware for the exterior security upgrades that were specified in the capital article vote is being delayed by supply chain issues.