BOE OKs police body camera use in schools

Plans are in place that guarantee that police officers wearing body cameras in schools will not violate students’ privacy rights, according to school administrators and local law enforcement.

With that in mind, the Board of Education Monday approved added wording in the School Resource Officer (SRO) memo of understanding to include officers wearing body cameras on school property. Monroe police will begin wearing the body cameras early next month.

“Once we made sure students’ privacy was protected, we approved the change,” said board Chair Donna Lane about the SRO memo addition. “We are confident that the policy covers all our concerns and is well within the law.”

The new language states, “The school resource officer shall use body worn camera in accordance with the police department policy. Any video gathered in the school setting will be reviewed by the police department and the school administration for confidentiality up to the time of an arrest. Once an arrest has occurred, the video is at the sole discretion of the police department.”

Lane said the board wanted to make sure that the department’s use of body cameras in the schools did not violate the Federal Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student confidential records.

Police Capt. Keith White said the department can “redact” students in the video, such as an innocent student seen in the background not involved in a particular incident an officer has on his body camera.

According to Lane, the board was satisfied with the department’s statement that the cameras would not be filming all day, but only if a situation arose in which video evidence was essential. Lane said that type of situation would happen mostly at the high school.

“We are also able to take out children’s faces, pixel them, so no one sees them,” said Lane. “Sound and voices can also be removed. All video will be reviewed by the school administration and police department, and all video will be kept on the town server, which is secured by the school administration and police department. No one else will have access.”

Other business

The board also announced plans to alert high school parents that police dogs will be used in Masuk High School this school year.

Lane said the policy of using police canines to search school property has been in place for several years but never used. The policy is in the school handbook, and students have been informed, but Lane said the board felt it was important that a separate notice go home via email to all parents to give them an alert, in case they did not see that section of the handbook.

“We just want to put all on alert that this could happen at any time,” said Lane. “We also wanted to let parents know that the students will not be in contact with the dogs. The dogs will be in the halls while the students are in class.”

Lane said that no particular incident led to this decision. The reason this has not been done before is because this is a “big undertaking,” requiring coordination with other area law enforcement departments and some five to seven police canines to perform the search.

The board also voted to close out the Stepney Roof Committee and project. The project was started in June, with minimal work done during the school year and the majority of roof replacement taking place over the summer.

Lane said the board had included a $25,000 contingency, as is done with all such projects. With $6,000 of that used, Lane said that the remaining $19,000 will be returned to the town.

“The project finished on time and on budget,” said Lane.

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