December 12, 2019

Panel OKs school camera compromise Outside surveillance at Camden Hills allowed; inside monitoring still restricted

ROCKPORT – A compromise version of a policy change on the use of surveillance cameras at Camden Hills Regional High School has been adopted by the Five Town Community School District board.

The new policy will allow administrators to look at monitors for the cameras set up outside the school – in the parking lot and other areas – but will retain the rules that prohibit the “active” use of the cameras inside the building.

Principal Nick Ithomitis, who began at the high school in September, proposed changing the policy earlier this year.

Previously, school officials could review the digitally recorded images captured by the cameras only when a complaint was made, such as vandalism to a vehicle in the parking lot or a part of the school building. If administrators reviewing the images saw evidence of an unrelated infraction, they could not act on it, under the policy.

The camera policy came under scrutiny two years ago when several threatening notes about the building were left in restrooms.

Ithomitis said the school in which he had worked before coming to Camden Hills allowed casual monitoring of cameras by administrators, and it proved effective.

At a public hearing on the policy change last month, some district residents objected to what was said to be the intrusive nature of the cameras, suggesting it sent students a message that they were not trusted.

In a letter to the board this week, Ithomitis wrote that he had a change of heart about the policy change he was recommending, and instead suggested that the existing policy be retained on the cameras inside the school.

One change to the way the inside cameras are managed, Superintendent Pat Hopkins said Thursday, which the board accepted Wednesday, involves off-site monitoring.

Now, if Hopkins activates a crisis management plan – motivated by violence, fire or other health and safety threat in the school – she can give police and fire officials a code by which they can monitor cameras inside the building from off-site locations.

The board also approved adding another camera to the outside of the building, allowing monitoring of the school’s propane and oil tanks, Hopkins said.

Though the outside cameras can be monitored by school officials under the new policy, the superintendent stressed they would not be viewed regularly.

“No one is going to be sitting in front of the screen staring at it,” she said.

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