Amherst school board OK with cameras at new elementary school

  • A security camera on a building in Peterborough, N.H. monadnock ledger/file photo

Staff Writer
Friday, November 25, 2022

AMHERST — Despite some concern voiced by the public and municipal committees about having security cameras at the new elementary school planned for the site of Fort River School, school officials are giving the architect permission to incorporate some cameras into the designs.

The Amherst School Committee voted 4-0 on Nov. 17, with member Irv Rhodes absent, to recommend that non-surveillance cameras be placed on the exterior, as well as at interior entrances and large public spaces, of the building being designed by DiNisco Design.

Superintendent Michael Morris said security cameras are typical for new elementary schools, and are often found in hallways and other common areas, but that he believes fewer are needed in Amherst.

“For me that balance between privacy, safety and security feels better with a more limited use of cameras,” Morris said.

While none of the three elementary schools in town have security cameras, they are in use at the Amherst Regional Middle and High schools. That began in the spring of 2014 following a series of lockdowns at the schools prompted by errant visitors and hostile notes.

“My belief was that we didn’t need as many cameras as are going in at new schools elsewhere,” Morris said.

The new elementary school, if approved by voters at a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion vote next spring, would replace both Wildwood and Fort River schools in the fall of 2026.

Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald said her understanding is that the footage from the unmonitored cameras will only be used in case there is an incident that needs to be investigated.

Still, committee member Jennifer Shiao said she would have liked to see a policy before approving cameras for the design. That policy would outline regulations and documentation about when the footage can be used, who has a right to access it and how long it would be kept. An existing policy already states that cameras, which can be used on the exterior of buildings, is to ensure safety, welfare and well-being.

The way the regional schools handle cameras feels right, said committee member Ben Herrington, even with the interior and exterior cameras at the middle school and high school.

“I would like to see a responsible use,” Herrington said. “I think we are very careful in how cameras are used in the buildings, and I would like to see that continue.”

Morris said he would provide protocols about how the cameras are used and who can view the recordings, as well as the length of time they are kept.

“I absolutely support that being a future item and getting more feedback on that,” Morris said.