In recognition of heightened fears following a recent deadly shooting, Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District officials are considering installing video surveillance systems at school campuses.
While no decision on the initiative has been made, Superintendent Michael Milliken said a committee formed to examine security improvements favored introducing the cameras, and many district officials as well as community members support the idea as well.
The proposal arrives in the wake of stoked security concerns following a fatal shooting in front of Central Elementary School in Belmont earlier this year, which Milliken acknowledged thrust campus safety to the top of priorities for the school community.
“That in some ways burst our bubble in the sense that it could happen here,” said Milliken, regarding the death of Mohammed Othman, a 17-year-old Carlmont High School senior, who was found shot in front of the elementary campus in January. “And while it wasn’t a school shooting, it was still a scary act of violence that very much concerned our parent community. And it’s something that renewed our focus on school safety.”
Othman’s death was determined not to be related to the school, as the incident was reported near 11 p.m., long after students and teachers went home for the night. Belmont police Capt. Pat Halleran said the investigation into the murder is continuing but there is nothing new to report. Nonetheless, the incident shined a light on the need for ramped up security measures, said Milliken. He added awareness around the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last year and other similar events fueled the discussion as well.
As a result, school board members are expected to soon vote on issuing a request for proposals from technicians willing to install the cameras. Should officials ratify the proposal, Milliken suggested a final decision could be made in time for the installation to be completed over the summer break.
Officials are considering placing cameras at the entrance to each of the district’s seven campuses, which Milliken said would help track those entering and exiting schools and also monitor behavior in the parking lots.
“We want a sense of who is coming to our campuses and when and making sure our school parking lots and campuses are not seen as safe places for people to engage in bad behavior,” said Milliken.
Should officials ultimately vote in favor of installing the cameras, Milliken said the entire project is roughly expected to cost in the neighborhood of $90,000 to $120,000.
While considering to introduce the technology, Milliken said officials must also simultaneously examine crafting policies addressing data security and privacy concerns. He noted though the district will likely refer to other nearby districts with similar protocol already in place as a model.
“We can benefit form other people’s experience in terms of best practices and policy making,” said Milliken, who noted a majority of the nation’s school districts have security cameras at campuses.
While most members of the school community support the initiative, Milliken noted some district employees raised privacy concerns during the discussion around installing the surveillance systems. He said as officials develop district policy, an eye will be kept to assuring those perspectives are addressed.
“We’d be more than happy to discuss with staff representatives to make sure that this is used to enhance security and safety and not used in any way to invade people’s privacy or abuse power,” he said.
While camera installation appears a top priority for officials, Milliken said administrators are also reviewing recommended safety protocol from county education officials and other national experts.
In the effort to adhere to such direction, Milliken said officials have worked with teachers and support personnel to assure all employees are up to speed on the latest and most stringent security practices.
“We are making sure that everyone is aware of our safety protocols,” said Milliken, who noted substitute teachers will even receive safety information in their preparation materials.
He said other, more simple, fixes are considered too such as assuring window coverings are available to help teachers in case they need to lock down a classroom due to an emergency or security threat.
District officials are also deferring to the recommendations of safety committees established at each school site which may develop unique policies which work best for each campus.
With the variety of measures considered, Milliken said priority initiatives such as the camera installation will likely move ahead as quickly as possible while officials continue considering other improvements over the coming year.
“This is something that will go well into next school year,” he said. “While we are committing to working through this in the long run, we want to make sure that we are tackling the higher priority items this summer and bringing some sense of urgency to it.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105