Whitman Middle School to install security cameras

Walt Whitman Middle School

Walt Whitman Middle School is aiming to install video monitoring systems — including interior and exterior cameras — in the spring of 2020 courtesy of a security grant from the state.

The interior cameras would be placed in common areas like hallways, the cafeteria and the gymnasium. They would not be used in classrooms or places where privacy is required, like restrooms or locker rooms, according to Whitman principal Craig Herring. Additionally, no one will be actively monitoring the video footage; it will only be reviewed after an incident occurs, he said.

To gauge community sentiment about the proposal, the school engaged in an outreach campaign for the past 30 days, sending out information and surveys, and holding a Parent Teacher Student Association meeting about the topic. Thus far, the feedback from staff, students and parents has been “overwhelmingly positive,” said Herring.

“I think the main question was ‘Why Whitman?’” said Herring. “Nothing happened to cause it; we’ve actually had a downtick in major issues.”

Since assuming the leadership position at Whitman two years ago, Herring said there’s been discussion among middle school principals in Fairfax County about acquiring cameras. The Fairfax County Middle School Principals Association drafted a letter to Superintendent Scott Braband about the matter, and Braband reportedly is considering including security cameras in the coming budget cycle.

According to FCPS School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders, all FCPS high schools — with the exception of one — have both interior and exterior cameras, and the final school is getting its cameras installed in coming months. As a security enhancement, FCPS has begun the process to add them in middle schools, she said, adding that cameras in high schools have been “highly effective in assisting school administrators and the police in their investigations of various incidents.”

Corbett Sanders said FCPS has a regulation requiring community engagement to obtain feedback from staff, students and parents on interior cameras, and that the process is underway at both Whitman and Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston.

Carl Sandburg Middle School installed interior video surveillance this year after undergoing a similar community outreach and engagement process.

Whitman was one of five schools in FCPS to be awarded School Security Equipment Grants from the Virginia Department of Education in October. Whitman was nominated for the grant by FCPS’s Office of Safety and Security, according to Herring.

The grant program enables school divisions to receive up to $250,000 each fiscal year for the purchase of qualifying security equipment to improve and ensure the safety of public school students. Whitman, Riverside Elementary, Crestwood Elementary, Dogwood Elementary and Parklawn Elementary were awarded a total of $236,102 in grants. Whitman’s grant — along with a division match — will fully fund the school’s estimated $110,000 security camera installation, according to the proposal.

At the very least, Herring anticipates that the security cameras could help school administrative staff save time on certain matters.

“One tiny hallway incident can turn into a ‘he said/she said,’ requiring interviewing students during class time,” said Herring. “A camera won’t solve the problem, but at least we’ll have some record of who started things.”