NEWARK, N.J. (PIX11) — New Jersey’s largest school district is now on course to be one of its most strongly monitored through a network of thousands of surveillance cameras.
The Newark Board of Education said it’s an important measure to promote students’ safety in an era where school shootings and other emergencies are more common. Parents who spoke with PIX11 News agreed but also wanted assurances that the cameras would do more than just survey corridors and classrooms.
Lanier Hayes is the father of a kindergartener. He was pushing her on a swing in Jesse Allen Park, next to Louise A. Spencer Elementary School, closed for Spring Break. When asked about having more cameras in schools, the dad was clear.
“For the safety of our kids,” Hayes said, “I think that’s a good thing.”
Specifically, he was responding to a recent decision by Newark’s Board of Education to install 7,000 security cameras at its schools.
The thousands of cameras would be added to the ones in place now in the district, which has 35,329 students, according to the Board of Education. While that’s the highest number of students in any New Jersey district, it’s only about 4% of the enrollment of New York City’s public schools.
The 7,000 cameras would mean one camera for every five or six students in the district. When asked if that kind of saturation could possibly compromise children’s privacy, parents told PIX11 News that it wouldn’t.
“I don’t think so,” said Christina Lalin, the parent of a kindergarten student and a sixth grader. “It’s good safety for the kids.”
“Say they get hurt, or they’re getting bullied,” Lalin continued, “they don’t have no proof of the child getting hurt, or even with a teacher.”
Valerie Wilson, the Newark Board of Education administrator overseeing the acquisition process, said the cameras were being purchased through federal American Rescue Plan funding designated for schools.
She said the 7,000 number was derived to meet the school district’s needs.
“We have over 3,000 classrooms. How many corridors, how many doors?” Wilson said in an interview. “I have one of my high schools that has over 27 doors. You have to look at the entire piece.”
Some families said that while they like the cameras, they wanted them to be used as widely as possible.
“Maybe spread it out a little bit more,” said Daisy Velazquez, a grandmother and long-time Newark resident, who was watching her five-year-old granddaughter play in the park on her day off.
Velazquez said the cameras need to be “not just in the schools, but surrounding areas, [such as] parks.”
Wilson, the Board of Education’s school business administrator, said the cameras would be used in ways that families had told the school district they’d wanted as the city considered their purchase.
“We have incorporated what the community requested,” Wilson said. “We understand that our buildings are in the community, that they are staples of the community, anchors of the community. We’ll not just be inside our buildings, but [the cameras will] also be outside.”
She said that the bidding process for contractors would soon begin, and the district hopes to have the cameras installed later this year.