Cameras coming to SHS

AMHERST – Souhegan High School will get safety upgrades, including the interior cameras that have been a point of contention for many years.

At its May 3 meeting, the school board decided to spend up to $250,000 for surveillance cameras and other devices, based on the recommendation of Associate Superintendent Adam Steel.

Video surveillance has been an ongoing controversy at Souhegan, with the school’s 26-member Community Council historically voting against cameras, saying they are not in line with the school’s culture of trust and respect.

“As the world changed, so too have our schools,” said Steel, who said his perspective on schools and safety changed after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, when two seniors went on a killing spree in their school.

“Cameras are coming to Souhegan High School, both inside and outside the building,” he said, and they will not compromise the school culture.

Other technology on the superintendent’s list of recommendations includes a radio system that integrates the schools, the SAU office and public safety agencies, a tip reporting tool, and centralized technology for door locks, alarm and reporting systems.

The money will come from a budget surplus, and Steel said they would like to have a contract with a provider by June 30.

At the same time, he said, security “has got to come from our culture, not from devices.”

The board’s unanimous vote came after two presentations, one from the Community Council and the other from Steel.

Student members Daria Dzen and Mitchell Jacobs went over the safety recommendations the council worked on for nearly a year.

The report does not recommend interior cameras and does recommend many changes, including improvements to the resource officers’ visibility, an emphasis on personalization, including smaller class sizes, a refocus on the school’s advisory program and improved lockdown procedures.

The Council also recommended the nonprofit school safety consulting firm, Safe Havens International, which performed a safety audit in February. For security reasons, Safe Havens’ report is not a public document, Steel said, but “we will share as much as we can.”

Last year Amherst school resource officers Michael Knox and John Smith emphatically recommended interior surveillance cameras and also closing the school campus. At a public forum last year, parents and other community members expressed strong opinions for and against interior cameras.

Since then, there have been more mass shootings, most notably the killing of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida less than three months ago.

No one in the audience of students, faculty and residents voiced objections to school officials’ plans.

Steel commended Community Council members on their thoughtful process that included research, debate and writing a report, and said about the best places for cameras.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

COMMENTS