MIDDLEBURY — A UD-3 committee has asked for cost estimates for a video camera system that would record activities in the hallways of Middlebury Union middle and high schools as a way of providing better security within those two buildings.
The video camera systems are being priced within the context of ongoing fire alarm upgrades at both MUMS and MUHS. Workers are more than halfway done with $110,000 in fire alarm system work at MUHS. District voters at the annual UD-3 school district meeting in January will likely be asked to endorse a similar project at MUMS, according to UD-3 Facilities Manager Bruce MacIntire.
Both fire alarm projects come with wiring suitable for the installation of video cameras. The UD-3 Facilities Committee is looking at the cost and logistics of installing that equipment. Officials stressed there are no formal plans at this point to purchase video equipment and that the concept has not even been debated yet at the full UD-3 board level. But the idea is spurring some talk about the merits of surveillance equipment and conversations about student/teacher safety versus privacy.
“The national trend since Newtown is to have video equipment in the hallways that is web-based so the principal knows where to respond to a situation,” said MUHS Principal Bill Lawson. Lawson was referring to the fatal shootings of 20 students and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Several Vermont schools, including Brattleboro High School, have recently acquired video camera systems, Lawson noted.
There are already video cameras directed at the front entrance of MUHS. The new cameras would be directed only within the hallways, and not within classrooms, bathrooms or locker rooms, Lawson stressed.
Middlebury School Resource Officer Chris Mason is participating in evaluation of the video equipment. The equipment could offer a live feed and record footage for follow-up investigations.
Lawson is tentatively in favor of adding the cameras.
“Anything we can do to make the building safer for folks is good,” Lawson said.
“The question is, how to you maintain the balance of having parents and community members feel welcome at any time, but make the students feel they are in a school setting and not a prison?” he added. “It’s a balancing act.”
Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley is in favor of acquiring a video camera system for both schools.
“In many cases, video in schools (as with Newtown and other venues) serve as a tool in post-event reconstruction,” he said. “As long as the cameras remain under the purview and control of the school administration, they meet constitutional and legal guidelines, they can be invaluable in deterring unlawful and harmful activity, serve as an early warning of potential trouble, and aid first responders by alerting them where in the building a threat is (human or otherwise). In a crisis situation, communication is of utmost importance, and in conjunction with our mutual radio system and the administration’s ability to have ‘eyes’ throughout the school, first responders and the school administration can respond cooperatively and effectively to a variety of situations on the campus.”
It remains to be seen whether the facilities committee will recommend the equipment purchase to the full board. In the meantime, the school community will seek to learn more about the idea and its potential impacts.
“I think it’s a complicated question,” said Jonah Lefkoe, 17, president of this year’s MUHS senior class and vice president of the student senate. “On the one hand, I see the necessity of increased safety due to the day and age we live in. We’ve got to realize we are on camera a lot in our day-to-day lives.”
At the same time, Lefkoe is hoping the school administration keeps students in the loop regarding the video camera deliberations.
“It’s important that students are kept informed about what’s going on and given reasons why this is a necessary measure,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]