BAR HARBOR — A policy change that would allow security cameras to be installed on school buses and inside schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System is going back to the school board’s policy committee for further consideration.
Board members took no formal action at their meeting Monday night but agreed that the proposed policy needs more work.
The existing policy only allows security cameras to be mounted outside on school buildings or grounds, where they focus primarily on parking lots and entrances.
“This is not an attempt to promote a Big Brother culture,” Superintendent Marc Gousse said of the idea of having security cameras in schools and on buses.
“This would be for the purpose of passive monitoring. That is, you don’t have someone glued to a screen and you’re not waiting to catch somebody doing something wrong. But if we had an incident, it’s an opportunity to go back and reconcile what did or didn’t occur.”
He said cameras would be allowed only in common areas of schools, such as hallways and cafeterias, not classrooms or offices.
Under the proposed new policy, school administrators and law enforcement officers would be authorized to watch security camera videos to determine what happened and who was involved in the event of an unfortunate incident.
“But when the first incident happens and a student is potentially under discipline, is the parent going to be able to watch the video?” asked board member Charlie Wray. “If there are multiple children in the video, do the parents get to watch those videos? I think that needs to be ironed out.”
Board member Kate Chaplin agreed.
“In addition to parents, I think the subjects of the video should be able to see themselves, whether they are students or teachers or bus drivers,” she said. “They should have the opportunity to interpret whatever actions are [shown in the video].”
Board member Dani Piquette-Kelly said, “It saddens me deeply to think about putting cameras inside our schools. Interior school cameras have a totally different feel [from exterior cameras]. It feels ugly to me.”
Board member Amy Rich responded, saying, “It becomes ugly depending on how you use it.”
The proposed policy would not require schools in the system to install security cameras in their buildings or on buses, but would allow each school committee and principal to make that decision.
“It is still a local, individual thing,” Rich said. “As for buses, I think it’s a positive because I want my driver looking at the road ahead. It’s one of the only places we send that many children with so little supervision, and the [bus driver’s] primary job is not watching the children, it’s safely driving the children.”
The idea of allowing security cameras on school buses originated with Trenton Elementary School Principal Mike Zboray, who asked the policy committee to consider it.
“Our drivers are … doing their best to pay attention to the road and keep the kids safe,” Zboray told the board. “Then they’ve got 60 or 70 kids behind them, depending on the size of the school, and trying to make sure they’re behaving in a way they’re supposed to.”
He said that if there is a problem or complaint, it would be nice to be able to look at a video to see exactly what happened.
Zboray also noted that at Trenton Elementary, which is the only school in the system with a pre-K class, 4-year-old children ride the bus each day. Even though those children sit at the front of the bus, he said a camera would provide “a little extra sense of security of knowing that, if something was to happen, we would have the ability to take a look and see.”
Gousse said that, as the policy committee considered Zboray’s request, the discussion “morphed from buses to our buildings at large.”
“It wasn’t me coming forward saying we need cameras in our schools.”
School safety forum
Following the mass shooting at a high school in Florida last winter, Gousse held two community forums to discuss local school security.
“I think it’s my responsibility to do a follow-up with our community now, before the next event occurs, no matter where it is,” he told the school board Monday night. “It strikes me that we shouldn’t wait for something to happen anywhere.
“I would like to do a follow-up forum for parents and let them know what we have been doing since last year and what we’re working on and [to hear] their questions and concerns.”
He said he planned to schedule that forum soon.