FCPS contemplates camera in high schools

The thought of video cameras lurking in the corners of school cafeterias and lobbies may soon become a reality for FCPS.

The rash of food fights last spring at high schools across the county spurred the High School Principals Association to petition the school board for indoor surveillance cameras in their schools.

Student rights group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform has voiced concern over the cost, potential privacy violations and “gotcha” atmosphere that they claim the cameras would create.

“I think the message it sends to kids is ‘we don’t trust you,”’ FZTR director Janet Oteren said.

Principal Jay Pearson is well aware of the concerns of parents and FZTR.

This is not at all a ‘gotcha,’” he said. “We’re not out to get kids, that’s not why we’re in this job.” 

School resource officer Tom Harrington did not agree with the idea that administrators would maliciously monitor students.

“It’s not like we’re going to be sitting there watching them,” he said.

The Student Advisory Council, whose members attend monthly countywide meetings with their counterparts from other FCPS schools, discussed the idea of interior surveillance in their mid-September meeting.

At the meeting, students reacted “kind of negatively,” SAC member Mackie Quirk, senior, said. “[The] cameras … they’re not going to necessarily prevent the issue of food fights.”

Currently, Fairfax only employs cameras outdoors and on school buses. In the same way that the outdoor cameras are supposed to discourage vandalism, Pearson sees the indoor cameras “as a deterrent to negative behavior.”

Pearson further stated that Marshall would be able to pay for the cameras out of the school’s pocket, something 24 of the 27 Fairfax county high schools agreed to do.

“We have money from community use … from where the building’s used, and that would be one fund that could be used to support that installation,” he said.

The cameras would cost on average eight thousand dollars per school if installed solely in the cafeterias and approximately 120 thousand if installed school-wide.

“That [cost] would be very tough for any school,” finance officer Nick Xidon said.

According to data from FCPS, it costs Marshall slightly less than $290 per day to monitor lunches with teachers, administrators and security guards.