Cameras raise students’ eyebrows, ire

Students weren’t smiling when theyfound out they were on camera.

Woodside High School was the school district’s first foray into campuswide surveillance cameras, but it received failing remarks by students, who claimed they were not informed of the installations and feared they were being policed.

The school installed 15 cameras last summer, said Ed LaVigne, the Woodside High School District’s chief business official. The cameras monitor student and staff parking lots, sports fields and other areas of campus. Superintendent Pat Gemma said they are meant to keep students in line as well as track unwanted visitors on campus.

Principals at all five district schools — Woodside, Sequoia, Carlmont, Menlo-Atherton and Redwood — have been clamoring for cameras, LaVigne said. But when Gemma discussed the cameras with Woodside students recently, he learned that some resented being monitored — and the fact that they didn’t get a heads-up before the cameras were installed.

“The students would have liked to have known about this ahead of time, and we’ll make sure that happens [at other schools],” Gemma said. He also reassured them that the cameras are “to detect and deter [activity], not to catch and punish.”

Neither Gemma nor Woodside High Principal David Riley, who took over as interim head three weeks ago, knew how communication between the district and Woodside students broke down. Parents and administrators in the school were notified long before the cameras went in, said Brian Murphy, president of the Woodside Parent Teacher Student Association.

Riley plans to meet with teachers next week and push for an article in the high school’s newspaper to make sure students are aware they’re on camera.

“Our leadership knew this was coming, and it’s possible students were told,” Riley said. “We have announcements on the [public announcement] system every day and students still say they don’t know about things. Even if they heard it, they’ll hear it again.”

Despite student fears, no specific incident or rash of crimes at Woodside made it the first choice for cameras, LaVigne said. “It was just happenstance.”

“They’re there to memorialize any significant incidents or identify persons of interest,” said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mark Alcantara. “The fact a camera is there is a deterrent; it makes sure students will be on their best behavior.”

Cameras have successfully reduced vandalism and bullying on about a dozen district school buses, where they have also been installed, LaVigne said. They will be added to the Carlmont, Sequoia, Menlo-Atherton and Redwood high school campuses by the end of the summer at a cost of almost $80,000 per campus.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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