Marin High Schools Move To Video Monitoring;
Crime Prevention Or Privacy Invasion?
By Karen Nakamura
Parents of Marin high school students have been on edge lately. Negative and fear provoking elements seem to have crept into the relative safety of the local school system.
In the past few years, parents have been faced with their children being spied on in public libraries because of the Homeland Security Act. And the military has begun gathering information on teens in high schools for recruitment purposes. Sixteen to eighteen year olds are seen as a new recruitment pool. There aren't enough 18-21 year olds coming forward to feed the armed forces' man and womanpower needs. The military is dipping into this underage pool, hoping students won't realize what the army actually wants.
To avoid having their children targeted as recruits parents have had to write letters objecting to the disclosure of their family's phone numbers and addresses to these recruiters. Without these letters, a lack of cooperation from the schools could result in the Bush Administration cutting federal funding in the schools.
Added to this troubled stew, video monitoring cameras have been added to the mix at several Marin high schools to "prevent crime."
The Coastal Post spoke to Luke McCann, Assistant Superintendent at the Marin County Office of Education, on the video monitoring. He didn't know the details of single districts to comment, but he did want it understood that individual districts set their own policies.
"This office doesn't deal with individual district policies except in facilitating inter-district resources and in an 'overview' capacity. Each district has a degree of autonomy."
Video hall monitors fall under those individual districts' domain.
"However," he said, "I'd like to address the greater picture. What we're not talking about is that some of these changes are the result of bond measures passed several years ago and just coming to fruition. The installations are often tied to modernization. In other words, funding for the monitoring comes from these bonds."
That makes sense. A couple years back people were overwhelmed by the Columbine shootings and tied safety features into any modernization plans. Many parents are still fearful. Others are equally fearful of Big Brother.
McCann continued, "While Marin is fairly safe, there have been incidents that warranted monitoring because students were in possible harm's way. We need to acknowledge that. Video monitoring is an excellent deterrent. I'm speaking here about the gay bashing incident at Tamalpais High School and racist graffiti. And there have been other cases where monitoring was an asset." McCann qualified his answer, "However, we were unaware of the monitoring at Glenwood."
What about the reaction of the students? Stephanie Powell, a sophomore at Terra Linda High School hasn't noticed any security cameras.
"I haven't been aware of any kind of monitoring of students. And I haven't heard any discussion among my friends" about any discontent with security measures."
As far as Stephanie is concerned, it's a non-issue.
Samantha Detwiler, a freshman at San Rafael High School, on the other hand, said that yes, video cameras were all over the high school.
"They're up in the ceiling like at a grocery store." When asked if they bothered her or if she'd heard students talking about not liking the intrusion on their privacy, Samantha said no. "If you're not doing anything wrong, why should they bother you?" Asked about security measures like uniformed officers, she answered, "I think there are two security guards. They're nice."
McCann, however, suggested a solution to the problem of privacy versus safety. Some of the equipment is portable. Maybe, it could be brought into an individual district only when needed, as with problems such as theft of equipment, gangs or drugs, then pulled out when the problem is solved. "This could be workable to satisfy both concerns," he said.
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