I wrote this column in February and pulled it before publication, because I thought we were making progress. Instead I wrote to the superintendent of schools on Feb. 27. I received no reply.
For the last several years the New Canaan Police had viewing access to the interior and exterior cameras of all New Canaan Public Schools from their dispatch center. They could select a specific camera if there was an incident. About a year ago police access to the interior cameras was cut off. The police chief was told that the superintendent / Board of Education was concerned about student privacy and cited FERPA laws.
Subsequently the superintendent sent the police a very restrictive memorandum of understanding (MOU), which the chief would not sign. When asked, the chief has said, “These restrictions were not workable especially in an emergency situation. Logging into the system during an emergency is not realistic.”
The police chief revised the MOU months ago to be workable from a student safety perspective. Police access to all school cameras is the next step (albeit small) to ensure student safety. The issue remains unresolved.
One Town Council member defended the right of the superintendent to make that decision saying, “The BOE has made a policy decision that’s entirely within their authority.” How do we know? The BOE does not discuss these important policy changes at their public meetings.
The main argument is that courts have ruled that security video footage of a public school should remain classified as an educational record under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). It seems crazy to suggest that a live-feed to the police is the same as making security camera footage available to the public. We don’t need to know the details of your security plan, but we expect our police to be involved and consulted on all matters of security. After all, we do not have two police forces — a private one for schools and one for the rest of us.
We expect police to be involved with drug-sniffing dogs and underage drinking, too — any suspected crime where the police think they have a problem. Chris Hussey raised this question of unannounced police access at a recent Board of Education meeting and learned “they [police] had to give the school notification.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that police are permitted to use dogs to sniff out contraband during unannounced, random searches. While the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure the Court ruled that students do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in schools. These issues are related. Please do not keep the police at arms length.
As much as the schools prefer to handle things themselves within their walled garden, school security is not their decision alone. Work with the chief of police; solve this impasse.