School-security plan on track for fall, official says

By Bobby Bryant, Editor,

A nearly $5 million plan to blanket Darlington County public schools with surveillance cameras should be ready to launch by November, a school-district official said last week.

All of the district’s nearly two dozen schools, including the three elementary schools under construction, will be part of this web of cameras that are far more sophisticated than what the district has now, Diane Sigmon, executive director of technology for the district, said in an interview.

“We have a standard, and it (will be) implemented in every school, equitably,” Sigmon said. “That’s how we always approach it. … We worked with each principal, particularly at the high schools, because they know where the nooks and crannies are that kids like to hide.”

“We have figured out the number of cameras for every school, because every school gets (the new) cameras,” Sigmon said. “We should be complete by November.”

The news media won’t be getting details about how many cameras are going into which schools, or details about camera locations, because of security reasons. For the same reasons, officials said, students and parents also won’t get details of exactly how the system is laid out.

“It varies by school because the facilities are so different,” Sigmon said. “We sat down with the team and decided, OK, we’re going to make sure the entrances and the exits have this much coverage. We have coverage that monitors incoming and outcoming people from restrooms.” There will also be cameras on the schools’ perimeters.

“When you implement a video-surveillance system, it’s really for multiple purposes,” Sigmon said. “One is to monitor activity, and it gives you information if something happens. You have that video data. It is to secure your buildings after hours, so if a door is opened, the video camera comes on.

“When we’re completely done with that (new system), there will be access (to the system) by law enforcement. We’re not doing that right out of the chute. We’ve got to kind of work out our kinks before we can expand it to law-enforcement agencies.

“In the horrible event that we have some type of ‘event’ happen at a school, then (the system) is going to give us great insight as to where things are happening, because of the management component that will be part of it.”

Some high schools in the county would get more than 100 new cameras under early versions of the security plan discussed by the school board as far back as December. Giving students electronic key cards also has been discussed, but the camera system was expected to account for the vast majority of the project’s costs.

At a Feb. 25 work session, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the school board: “What we’re talking about here, 85 percent is the cameras; 15 percent is the card access. I definitely want to start with the cameras.”

Newman told the board he would like to see cameras “everywhere.”

It wasn’t clear last week when the district planned to begin implementing any program to issue students key cards. One school board member, Jamie Morphis, has often expressed worry that students might find themselves locked out of their school if the computers controlling door access malfunctioned or if the school’s power got knocked out.

Author: Rachel Howell

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