The Washington Post

Fairfax school board will vote on cameras in schools in December

Fairfax County’s current school board will decide before the end of the year whether to allow indoor surveillance cameras, Chairwoman Jane K. Strauss said Monday afternoon.

“A lot of people have worked a long time on this, there has been a great deal of discussion,” she said at a school board work session. “It’s my advocacy that this board resolve this issue.”

The issue will either come up for a vote at the board’s second-to-last meeting (Dec. 1) or its last meeting (Dec. 15). The timing will be up to Strauss.

Some school board members voiced their strong opposition to installing cameras. “I think that at some point we have to say we’re not going to watch our students 24/7,” said Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill).

But there appeared to be substantial support for changing the policy to allow surveillance in cafeterias and selected hotspots.

“We need to remember that our primary role here is to make sure our children are safe,” said Patty Reed (Providence), who said she was living in Colorado when two teenagers opened fire at Columbine High School. “We should give our principals all the tools they could possibly have at their discretion.”

The board could have decided to put off the vote until newly elected members take office in late December. That was the position advocated by Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon) and Sandy Evans (Mason).

“I have a lot of reservations about moving forward,” said Storck. “Once this decision’s made, it’s almost impossible for us to go back.”

If the measure passes, high schools will be able to — but not be required to — install cameras.

Cameras have been adopted by almost every surrounding school district, but Fairfax has resisted them out of concern for student privacy. The latest public push for cameras began in September, after a rash of food fights spurred principals to seek new ways to ensure security and discipline.

Most of the high school PTAs in the county support cameras, according to a principal survey that has been criticized by some parents and several board members as an incomplete and perhaps biased snapshot of community sentiment.

“To have a discussion — a dialogue — about something this monumental, we need to make sure it’s done in an evenhanded way,” said Storck, who called the parent survey “deeply flawed.”

The school board asked the superintendent and his staff to write guidelines for use and monitoring of the surveillance video. The board also asked for a list of hotspots at each high school and for more details about how individual schools would decide to install (or forgo) cameras.

“This board has invested a considerable amount of time and energy” in examining the issue, said James Raney (At Large), “and I think we certainly have enough information at our disposal to make a decision.”

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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