Last night, the Madison Board of Education considered a potential change to their surveillance and electronic monitoring policy – which hasn’t been updated in more than two decades.
The change would prohibit the use of hidden cameras within all Madison Metropolitan School District buildings.
The proposed policy comes after a 2019 incident in which some top administrative officials signed off on the installation of hidden cameras to monitor an MMSD employee. Those cameras were installed in a changing room for disabled students and a coach’s office off a boys locker room.
The hidden cameras were approved by top brass at the district — but their presence wasn’t made known to then-interim superintendent Jane Belmore, the school board, or East High teachers, reports Isthmus.
The school board, while discussing the potential policy change last night, notably avoided almost all reference to the 2019 incident, with board member Nicki Vander-Meulen only making a passing comment on the matter.
“It’s only come back to bite us twice, so far, but I’m not sure I want anyone to have permission to hide a camera,” said Vander-Meulen.
This is the second hidden camera case involving MMSD staff.
Also in 2019, East High Teacher David Kruchten placed hidden cameras in students’ hotel rooms during a field trip to Minneapolis. Kruchten entered a guilty plea in that case last month, telling a judge that he became addicted to seeing what students were doing in their private moments.
He now faces six to twenty years behind bars, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
While the two cases involve hidden cameras, they are unrelated.
The new policy would also give MMSD Superintendent Carlton Jenkins final say in the placement of any new cameras in areas deemed “not otherwise appropriate for camera placement.”
This also means that, though the cameras must be visible, the placement of the cameras do not need to be discussed with the school board, which made some board members, including Vander-Meulen, wary of the plan.
“I think the board needs to know if a camera is going to be placed. I think we do need to be read into it, I think it does affect policy, because we are the ones who are going to take blame if a camera is found. It’s assumed that we do know. And I think that in this situation, we have to know,” said Vander-Meulen.
Sherry Terrel-Webb, MMSD’s General Legal Counsel, assured board members that any future surveillance cameras that may be installed won’t be hidden.
“When I’m thinking extenuating circumstances, the definitions I’m thinking of are vandalism to school property, and then they’re still not hidden. We’re still not doing hidden cameras, all the cameras will be visible,” said Terrel-Webb.
Some members of the board expressed frustration with allowing any cameras in schools – whether hidden or in plain view.
“I’m just going to be really honest, if we cannot provide safe and supportive spaces for our students without cameras, I don’t know what we’re doing,” said board member Ananda Mirilli. “I don’t want to be a part of that. To be honest with you, I don’t want to be a part of a school or a district that finds necessary monitoring and surveillance in order to have a supportive learning environment.”
The potential policy change comes after repeated calls from community members for transparency from the school board about the hidden surveillance of students in the locker room office and changing room.
Anna Hauser is a member of the Demand Dignity Coalition — a group of parents, teachers and students who have previously pressed the district to open up about the case.
Hauser says they have not heard anything from the district about the policy change.
“What we really need to see is that transparency. We also need to see a cooperative effort where the board, staff, and families are all sort of aware of what’s going on. We shouldn’t be surprised, or finding things out in the news, and just in general I think that transparency is a good thing. It’s something that we’ve been asking for for a lot of years,” said Hauser.
The school board is slated to vote on the change on October 25th.
Also at last night’s meeting, the board agreed upon the language to be used on the vaccine mandate for all MMSD staff. The mandate will be voted on next week. If passed, it will take effect on November 1st, a full two months into the school year.
Image courtesy: Siarhei Horbach/UNSLPASH