Rebecca Cooksey, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Technology Services at California’s Lancaster School District, says modern IP cameras give staff an edge on school safety.

Jun 21 2023

As School Safety Concerns Grow, What Role Can Modern Cameras Play?

K–12 leaders say IP cameras offer real-time visibility, allow schools to detect incidents faster, and can even prevent violence and crime.

School leaders at Lancaster School District in California are taking a multipronged approach to keeping students safe from outside intruders and even from each other.

Located about an hour northeast of Los Angeles, the 15,000-student district serving pre-K through eighth grade began installing new IP security cameras across its 23 schools in December. About a third of the way into the deployment, school officials saw an immediate impact: a drop in the number of school fights.

“The world has gotten a little bit crazy, so we want to make sure we have the safest possible environment for our students,” says Rebecca Cooksey, Lancaster’s assistant superintendent of innovation and technology services. “When we put the cameras up, we saw better student behavior. They know the cameras are there and that we are recording. So, incidents have gone down.”

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    These are no ordinary cameras. While many schools have had security cameras for years, modern IP surveillance camera solutions offer schools the gift of time.

    These new IP cameras come with features such as video analytics, which school leaders say can provide real-time visibility, allow schools to detect and respond to incidents faster and, in some cases, serve as a deterrent against violence and crime.

    For example, the new camera system can send a text alert to Lancaster administrators if students are quickly congregating in one area, which can indicate a fight is brewing. “Sometimes we stop a fight before it happens,” Cooksey says.

    Admins can also review incident footage and see who was involved and who instigated it. “It eliminates the ‘he said, she said,’” adds IT Services Director Brandon Weber.

    Schools Should Augment Physical Upgrades with Social Programs

    With school violence making regular headlines, school leaders are under immense pressure to keep their school grounds safe. The new cameras can help.

    When integrated into door access control systems, the cameras improve security by limiting who has access to school buildings and tracking who goes in and out, they say. The cameras are also integral tools after incidents such as vandalism.

    “Cameras might identify some weaknesses or ways schools might improve,” says Justin Heinze, co-director of the National Center for School Safety.

    Heinze says schools have increased their physical security investments in the past decade, which includes adding video monitoring systems, metal detectors and school resource officers.

    However, Heinze says, schools need to augment these physical upgrades with social programs and school climate services. These  tools — such as hiring counselors and mental health professionals, developing anti-bullying campaigns and creating anonymous reporting systems for students — have shown they can prevent violence.

    “Paired with physical security measures, they have a synergistic effect,” Heinze says.

    Modern Cameras Allow Easy Access to Footage and Analytics

    Lancaster leaders note that upgrading their cameras is part of a broad-based safety initiative. The district is also focusing on students’ emotional well-being and mental health. They’ve implemented a Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, in which students and their teachers build a social contract based on treating each other with respect.

    “We have to make sure students feel safe, that they feel they belong and that they have trusted adults they can talk to on campus,” Cooksey says.

    The cameras serve as a backstop. The district previously installed cameras only at the front office of each school, but with support from state funding and the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, they can do a lot more.

    The district is placing 35 cameras at each school. Outdoor cameras such as Verkada’s CF81 12-megapixel fisheye-lens camera cover the outside perimeter, while CD62 4K dome cameras with zoom capability monitor common indoor spaces like hallways, the cafeteria and the gym. There are no cameras in classrooms, bathrooms or locker rooms.

    “These upgrades are about safety for our kids and staff,” Cooksey says.

    The new cameras are also a time saver. Previously, video footage was stored on in-house network video recorders, and when administrators needed to access video for investigations, most submitted requests to the IT staff, who then had to sift through the footage.

    Seeking a better option, the district standardized on Verkada, whose HD cameras, video analytics capabilities, cloud-based storage and web management software provide a unified solution that is easy to manage and use, Cooksey says.

    “If someone suspicious comes on campus, we can see who it is, track the person’s location and get that information to law enforcement as fast as possible,” she says.

    School administrators can also use video analytics to find a missing student based on the clothes that child is wearing.

    Lancaster’s IT services department regularly upgrades its network equipment so the existing network can handle the bandwidth needs of the cameras, Weber says.  

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    Upgrading Cameras Gives Virginia District Better Clarity

    In Virginia, Henrico County Public Schools upgraded surveillance cameras across many of its schools this past year.

    The 49,000-student district used a mix of grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and county funds to replace cameras — some of which were 9 years old — at its 73 schools, says Lenny Pritchard, HCPS’s chief of operations.

    “Safety is a priority. We are constantly looking to improve what we do and how we do it,” Pritchard says. “With the cameras, we had an opportunity to improve one of our layers of security and upgrade outdated technology.”

    HCPS purchased a Verkada security camera and software solution. The new cameras provide wider fields of view and improved zoom capabilities, which allowed the district to install fewer cameras in some locations while maintaining the same camera coverage, he says.

    DIVE DEEPER: The right people and tech solutions can ensure physical safety and cybersecurity.

    “The new cameras provide better resolution, better clarity,” Pritchard says.

    They also offer easy access for school and district administrators, such as the facilities director and emergency manager, and help the transportation department make sure buses are on time, he says.

    In addition to cameras, Pritchard says the district also focuses on building positive relationships among students, parents and staff.

    The goal is to encourage an open dialogue about school safety and make it comfortable for students to alert their parents or school staff if they hear about anything suspicious happening at their schools, he says.

    Source: Lancaster School District

    Oregon District Combines Video Surveillance with Access Control

    When Eric Ryan joined Crook County School District as the new technology director in fall 2021, improving security in each school building was one of his top priorities.

    Like Lancaster School District, CCSD was relying on older IP-based cameras. During his first week on the job, Ryan toured each school site with the facilities director and school resource officer and discovered that the district needed to improve its camera coverage. He also wanted to make it easier to access and review video footage.

    “What I found was that our existing coverage was inadequate,” he says. “For us the real driver for change was making sure school officials and police have visibility and that we were always in sync with what’s going on, so the response time can be as fast as possible.”

    To make the Prineville, Ore., district’s nine schools safer, Ryan standardized on an integrated Verkada solution that combines IP-based surveillance cameras, environmental sensors and a door access control system.

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    At one high school, for example, he installed 12 Verkada cameras, covering the inside and outside perimeter of the school. He also installed two environmental sensors inside bathrooms, which can detect vaping, motion and sound. The sensors alert school staff via text if they sense vaping or any noises or movement that could indicate an altercation, Ryan says.

    CCSD has also standardized on Verkada’s door access control system, which enables staff to use badges to unlock and open doors. When classes are in session, staff at the front desk can press a button to let students in, Ryan says.

    Overall, the integrated Verkada solutions allow the district to be proactive, not reactive, Ryan says. If the police department alerts school leaders to be on the lookout for a person trying to enter school facilities and sends a photo, they can put that photo into the system and, through face recognition, be immediately notified if cameras detect the person’s presence, he says.

    CCSD has used ESSER and district funds to pay for the upgrades so far. Ryan hopes to continue the momentum and secure grant funding this fall to upgrade remaining schools. A local bond measure is another option.

    “We want to create an environment where students feel safe, and we believe we have the visibility to protect them should the need arise,” Ryan says.

    Photography by Matthew Furman

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