Berkeley High School students will soon have 38 watchful eyes looking over them in the hallways of the C, G and H buildings, the School Board decided Wednesday night. In a 4-0-1 vote, the board approved the use of the 38 cameras to monitor activity at the school, which suffered a rash of arson fires last year.
Board President Joaquin Rivera, and Directors Pamela Doolan, Shirley Issel, and Ted Schultz voted in favor of the measure, while Vice President Terry Doran and Student Director Niles Xi ‘An Lichtenstein abstained. The student director’s vote is advisory.
Directors added language to the resolution to make sure that the cameras would not provide live surveillance without the board’s permission and that the cameras could not be used for teacher evaluation.
Doran, however, said he didn’t want surveillance under “any circumstance.”
Issel voted in favor of the resolution only after adding a clarifying amendment to the resolution. “I want to be crystal clear that there would be no live surveillance without the permission of the board,” she said.
She added that live surveillance could be useful and it shouldn’t be ruled out.
“This is really serious and requires some public discussion, but it’s more useful than saying ‘you can never use this.’”
Questions also arose over who would authorize the viewing of the tapes.
The board left it to the judgment of the either the school administration, the Police Department or the Fire Department, if an incident were to occur that would compromise the safety of the students.
Although the plan to install the cameras was devised in hopes of catching the arsonists, the cameras could theoretically be used at the discretion of the administration or the police, to review student behavior, such as violence or vandalism.
“There will be a bunch of precedents,” Superintendent Jack McLaughlin said. “We have to develop a clear policy as to when its OK to go back and look at the videotape.”
Issel added that it was imperative that the cameras be used as intended – the protection of the students.
“You can’t provide for the safety of the students if you don’t have the means,” she said.
“But there is a potential for abuse, and we have a responsibility to ensure that the devices be used for the purposes they were intended, which is prevention and apprehension.”
McLaughlin said the cost of the implementation would be about:
• $63,000 for cable installation.
• $55,000 for equipment cost.
• $22,000 for equipment installation.
He said that these costs are estimates, and that staff will be working with contractors on the exact installation costs and the use of existing district cabling.
Funds for the project could come from a one-time block grant that the school received from the state, or from bond interest, he said, explaining that there are still many details to work out, including a date for beginning the installation.
“The concept is now approved,” he said. “We just have to get the details worked out.”