Steamboat Springs There wasn't an invasive sense of "Big Brother is watching me" Thursday at Steamboat Springs High School. But some students couldn't help but notice the new security cameras being installed inside and outside the school.
Senior Rylan Laszewski said he thought the cameras were an invasion of privacy. The 17-year-old admitted that they could make the high school more secure, but he couldn't shake the idea he was being watched.
"It's kind of a good thing, but I think they're invading our space," he said.
The installation of security cameras and an automated door access system at the high school almost is complete, said Rick Denney, the district's facilities director. The process started a week after school began in late August.
The cameras - located outside as well as in common areas, corridors and areas commonly used by the public but not in classrooms - run on a Web-based system that records, but they aren't monitored all day, Denney said. Only a few administrators have access to them.
He said the new security measures are being implemented at all district schools and the transportation facility. The system should be complete by the end of November.
The systems were paid for by a $533,000 Community Oriented Policing Services Securing Our Schools grant that the district was awarded in September 2007. The grant required that the district match the funds to implement several security-related measures in the schools - after a safety and security audit the district commissioned in February 2007, Denney said.
The bill for the $677,000 system was split evenly between the grant and a district match. The grant also funded part of the purchase of 800-megahertz radios for district staff and bus drivers. The district paid half of that $290,000 cost.
After the district received the grant, there was dissension among members of the School Board about how to spend the money.
School Board member John DeVincentis said at the time, he argued against spending the grant funding on cameras because they "don't stop anything." He said cameras would merely record violence that occurred in schools - citing the Columbine High School shootings. DeVincentis said he was bothered that some thought they would deter vandalism.
"I wish the money went to something that really makes a difference in schools, not something that creates a false sense of security," he said.
Instead, he suggested placing a security guard at schools to check in visitors and their belongings if parents were interested in beefing up school security.
School Board President Robin Crossan, then a board member, said the initial camera discussions included seeking feedback from the public, including students and parents. Crossan said she thought Steamboat would say no to cameras, but she received all positive comments.
She reiterated that the system wasn't in place to watch students or people in the schools.
"It's there for an emergency," such as a break-in, she said. "It's just a little bit more of a safeguard to protect students and staff in every building."
Denney said the automated door access system, which will involve issuing district staff electronic key cards, would be integrated with the security cameras to monitor who enters and exits school facilities. The key cards also will be staff members' identification badges.
He said the key cards would replace traditional keys and have several advantages. Denney said key cards could be issued to community groups that use schools, and if they were lost would be deleted from the system and wouldn't require re-keying schools - "an expensive endeavor."
"It's a vast improvement in security," he said.
Principal Kevin Taulman cited the advantage of having the cameras and automated door system for improving security on the weekends, when many community groups use the high school.
"I feel like our students are safe during school hours, but outside of that, we don't know what's going on here," he said.
Security systems aren't uncommon at schools in nearby mountain towns.
Middle Park High School in Granby, part of the East Grand School District, had security cameras on the building's exterior until it underwent a renovation two years ago, Principal Jane Harmon said.
She said the cameras weren't reinstalled after the renovation, partly because of the high maintenance cost.
Harmon, who arrived about the time the renovation was completed, said she has experience with cameras in schools. She was the principal at Moffat County High School in Craig for seven years before taking the job at Middle Park.
Harmon said school security cameras often were perceived as a tool to spy on students, which was a misconception.
"The benefit of cameras in Moffat County was if we needed more information (about an incident), we could go back to the cameras to get more information and identify what was involved," she said.
Harmon said Middle Park was exploring whether it could apply for the Community Oriented Policing Services grant to receive funding to install a new security camera system.
In May, Summit High School in Breckenridge completed the installation of a Web-based security camera system, Assistant Principal Brett Tomlinson said. But he said Summit has had cameras since the school opened in 1997.
Tomlinson said the security cameras are helpful but don't entirely discourage crime.
"It probably deters some things, but it doesn't necessarily prevent crime or things like that," he said. "But it has helped us this year identify students vandalizing or doing other things in schools."
Because cameras have been at Summit for so long, Tomlinson said the students were used to them and not bothered by their presence.
Although some high school students were wary of being watched by the new "eyes in the sky," a number of them thought the cameras would be helpful. Others were indifferent.
"I think they're pretty smart to put in all the cameras," sophomore Thomas Tuthill said. "They'll finally get to crack down on all the stuff going on in school."
Tuthill said some of that "stuff" included students skipping school and drug use. He said after traveling to other area schools for sports and seeing cameras, he was used to them.
Several other students shared that same thought about the cameras.
"They don't make a difference, really," junior Kendall McGill said. "They're there, but I don't think people notice."
Senior Brianna Watterson said she knew some noticed the cameras because there was discussion about them among students when they were first being installed.
"I don't think it bothers them that much," she said. "There's not anything they can do about them."