Cape Girardeau School District increasing camera surveillance

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's like "Candid Camera" for would-be truants.

About $200,000 in bond money is targeted for safety and security initiatives in the Cape Girardeau School District, including the installation of high-tech surveillance systems. The plan is part of the first phase of the district's facilities improvement campaign, funded through the $40 million bond issue voters approved in April. The phase will replace Franklin Elementary, put in additions at Central High School and address deferred maintenance throughout the district.

The phase will first install cameras in the district's elementary schools, said Neil Glass, the district's director of administrative services. Clippard is the only elementary school that already has cameras. Surveillance systems will be upgraded at the district's other schools.

"Surveillance is now kind of spotty in our buildings," Glass said. "We're picking up the long corridors, but the cameras aren't the quality we'd like them. The pictures are grainy and hard to decipher."

The systems would include "position switches" on the school's locked doors, triggering alarms in the administrator's office. So a student trying to sneak out would be caught on camera and caught red-handed as the alarm bell sounds.

"If we have those security cameras, that discourages that type of activity," Glass said. "I think we can prevent a lot of discipline problems, like truancy."

The Cape Girardeau Alternative Education Center has video surveillance in the halls and cameras with sound in the classrooms -- a system, like other schools in the district, centralized and monitored in the administrator's office.

"On my computer I can pull up any classroom at any time," said Carla Fee, the school's principal and At-Risk coordinator for the district. "There's a feature for saving different clips, so if we had a fight, for instance, and the police department needed that, it helps."

The security upgrade is a significant undertaking. The longstanding Cape Girardeau Central Junior High School, for instance, has scores of doors. The newer buildings, however, were designed with fewer entry and exit points.

The initiative will address how the district wants people to enter and exit school buildings, ensuring educators and administrators are aware of anyone who comes through the building, Glass said. Ultimately, security will include access control and a magnetic swipe-card system, to strengthen the point-of-entry contact and the surveillance cameras trained on just about every position of school grounds.

Tighter security is a critical reality for schools everywhere in a post-Columbine world, said Cape Girardeau Central High School principal Mike Cowan, referring to the 1999 shootings at the Colorado high school. While security breaches have been rare at the school, in 2008 an agitated parent did enter the building in the rush of students at the 7:25 a.m. bell, Cowan said.

The high school has an "abundance" of surveillance cameras, most of which have been funded through grants, Cowan said. But the principal said he would welcome an enhanced surveillance aimed system, especially cameras at the campus' major roadways.

"I would also welcome the opportunity for cameras to be on our athletic field, especially once we build a stadium and when we host large groups of people outside," Cowan said.

The plan is to have the surveillance system rolled out districtwide by 2012, Glass said.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

330 N Spring St., Cape Girardeau, MO

1000 South Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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