New security cameras installed at Urban, taking many students by surprise


Olive Lopez

Newly installed security camera in the old library. The camera was put up in August.

Sam Johnson, Staff Writer

The Urban School’s concerns over security — and access to the roof — prompted officials to install four cameras at Urban on Aug. 30, the second day of school, and one day after the front window was broken in an apparent act of vandalism.

Two cameras were placed in the garden, another in the Old Library, and the final in the southwest corner of the gym. A fifth camera by the front doors was installed during the 2012-13 school year. None of these cameras capture sound.

The cameras were installed to prevent further break-ins at Urban and to curb student access to the roof as a result of reckless behavior.

Urban students were surprised to see the cameras this fall after not having heard about these new additions to the school. “I feel like they should have told us,” said Stella Kaufman (’16).

However, some students were supportive of the cameras. “I don’t know what they are used for, but I think it’s an interesting addition to the school,” said Olivia Mitchel (’17).

Though one of the main reasons for the cameras was to decrease break-ins, school administrators say that security is not a problem at Urban.

“Comparatively to a lot of other schools, I think Urban is one of the safest places,” said Charlotte Worsley, assistant head of student life. “I’ve been here for 25 years, and we’ve had maybe three break-ins. It’s just not that many.”

However, the fact that Urban is a 1:1 laptop school, meaning that each student has a school-issued computer, puts it at risk for break-ins, Worsley said.

“I think it’s known in the city that we’re a laptop school, and that we have lots of computers, and I think that’s probably our main vulnerable piece,” said Worsley.

In addition to the vandalism that occurred over the summer, there have been two major break-ins at Urban in the past five years. Three years ago, three computers were taken after a thief broke in by climbing through the small window in Admission Director Bobby Ramos’ office on the ground floor.

The other break-in happened two years ago. “Someone came in through the door and down this hallway on Page Street … they went into the lobby and stole the reception computer,” said Katie Catassi, facilities manager.

The camera in front of school, both cameras in the garden, and the camera in the gym were installed to prevent further break-ins.

According to Worsley, precautions such as installing cameras and hiring a security guard are needed to prevent incidents along these lines from happening again.

Some students understood this decision.

“I think it makes sense for them to have them because of all the theft,” said Kaufman. “There have been so many reported stolen items so I think it’s necessary.”

“(I)t’s important to have safety in a school,” said Karen Desai (’15). “It’s important to realize that (school officials are) doing it for your safety and the safety of others.”

But other students said that the cameras make them feel more self-conscious.

“It’s sort of creepy to have a bunch of cameras in places that aren’t super-obvious,” said Carter Langen (‘17). “I see the point of having them… but I don’t think they’re completely necessary.”

Unlike the security cameras installed to catch outsiders in the act of a crime, the camera in the Old Library was installed to prevent Urban students from getting into trouble. Over the past two years, several incidents involving students jumping from roof to roof have concerned Urban faculty and resulted in complaints from Urban’s neighbors.

One neighbor reported “that there were about four or five Urban students up there jumping,” said Catassi.

Given the possibility of protest, the debate over installing security cameras at Urban has been a long-term conversation among school officials. “We’ve talked over the years about security cameras,” Worsley said.

Catassi wanted to make it clear that the reason for installing the cameras was not to watch students. “We didn’t want it to be like we were spying on anybody,” she said. “They’re more of a deterrent for break-ins.”

Asked when and how camera footage will be reviewed, Catassi replied that it would be used if and when an incident occurs, for example, “just after an event, if I get a call from a neighbor, to say the kids are jumping from roof to roof again.”

Because Urban is a private school, students have fewer rights when it comes to control of footage than those at a public school.

According to Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., the Constitution gives public school students a right to challenge any footage being used against them for disciplinary purposes.

Unfortunately, because Urban is a private and not a public school, “students generally do not have the benefit of any constitutional protections at all,” explained LoMonte. This includes the right not to be filmed by a security camera.

Whether students think the cameras are for deterring theft, or for watching them, it really all comes down to “provid(ing) all grades with safety,” said Desai.