MOUNT DESERT — Two security cameras to be mounted outside Mount Desert Elementary School on a trial basis will allow school administrators or police to see what is happening in real time in the event of a crisis or to view recordings of an incident later.
The camera systems that are currently installed at three other schools in the district — Mount Desert Island High School, Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor and Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor — do not have the live viewing capability.
Wendell Oppewall, the school system’s network administrator, said the type of cameras to be tried out at Mount Desert could eventually replace those at the other schools.
“We’re looking at this being a consistent approach across the district if it works out well here, so the various police departments can access it very easily,” he told the Mount Desert school committee last week.
Oppewall said he consulted with police officer Tim Bland, who is the school resource officer, on placement of the cameras for the pilot project. One camera is to be installed outside the school’s main, front entrance and one at the back. That one would show the rear patio and playground.
Oppewall said the school has 90 days to decide whether to keep the cameras, which cost about $1,200 each, or send them back to the vendor. If the school decides to keep them, Oppewall and Principal Gloria Delsandro said a third camera might be purchased to focus on the small parking lot on the west side of the building.
“The advantage of these cameras is that they store everything locally, in addition to being cloud based, so you don’t need a separate DVR like the other schools have currently for
to be reviewed,” Oppewall said.
“And they have a bunch of different features. You can set them up to scan or to zoom in on different areas. They allow you to detect motion in certain areas but not in others. They have infrared capabilities, so you can see up to 90 meters away at night.”
Delsandro and Superintendent Marc Gousse emphasized that only a few select people would have access to the live camera images or recordings. Access would be limited to the school principal, the superintendent and law enforcement, in accordance with school system policy.
That policy, revised and adopted last February, states that security cameras “may be placed in interior/exterior locations deemed appropriate by the superintendent upon the recommendation of the building principal.”
The policy goes on to state that security cameras may be positioned to view only “common areas of school property.”
Camera recordings may be viewed only by school administrators and only “where there is reasonable suspicion that there has been a significant violation of school policy” or by the police “to investigate criminal conduct.”
“The police and administration shall not use video recordings to discover misbehavior when no reasonable suspicion exists,” the policy states.
In addition to the exterior cameras, a small, non-recording webcam will be installed at Mount Desert Elementary’s front entrance. It will be connected to a monitor in the front office so that the office staff can see who is coming and going.
Delsandro told the school committee that she sees security cameras as “a last resort … something I can refer to if necessary.
“Our kids are great; they are also not fully formed, so sometimes things happen.”
Delsandro said that, as a safety and security tool, the camera system is “a source of comfort,” but that it “must be used with discretion.”