In spring 2019, the administration made the controversial decision to install security cameras around the campus to better ensure students’ safety across campus. While the administration stated that the cameras would not be used to monitor students’ actions, recent cases of disciplinary action utilizing the footage from security cameras are causing concern among members of the community.
Since Deerfield Academy is split by two public streets, Old Main Street and Albany Road, the Academy does not have legal control over all aspects of the campus. As a result, there have been cases of trespassing and robbery by individuals from outside the community, which could be dangerous for all members of the community. After several incidents, the administration made the decision to install 25 security cameras on the exterior of various academic and athletic facilities.
While the installation of the security cameras was initially met with mixed reactions, most students have not reported any problems or complaints regarding them.
However, several students have recently undergone disciplinary procedures after the security cameras captured footage of them violating a school rule.
In one incident, a group of seniors climbed the roof of the athletic facility and received letters of reprimand in the following days as a result of camera footage that had caught them on the roof.
Zane Smith ’20 said, “My friends and I climbed the roof and were emailed by Mr. Kelly a few days after the event to have a meeting about the situation. We were given letters of reprimand and our parents were notified.”
Smith also noted that there was no explanation of who notified the disciplinary committee or how they were caught on the roof of the athletic facility.
“We weren’t told at any point how we were found to be climbing the roof since we knew so many others to have done so without repercussion, so we were rather confused as to how in this instance we were the ones caught,” Smith said.
Smith and his friends understood the situation only when the “security guard overheard and chimed in that he was in fact the one that saw [them] via a camera that was placed above the squash courts’ upper entrance.”
For Smith and his friends, this incident has caused them to reconsider their personal opinions on the significance and purpose of the security cameras.
Arthur Yao ’20, who was also on the roof of the athletic center, said, “If the administration has the time to sit in their cozy offices to watch security footage tapes all day, they should also have the ability to actively support students who are the victims of these crimes instead of punishing them. I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of safety and security for all, but I believe these cameras have significantly compromised student privacy.”
Smith ’20 agreed, “I think that the cameras reflect a lack of trust in the student body if they are used to monitor on a live basis the activities of students and subsequently punish them. I think that – on principle – the letters of reprimand given to my friends and [me] ought to be expunged if Deerfield seeks to continue to uphold the narrative that the cameras are not to catch or simply punish students, [but] simply just to be used in the case of criminal activity.”
While some students expressed the need for change, the administration and the deans remained firm on their position regarding the security cameras.
Dean of Students Samuel Bicknell wrote, “It is of utmost priority to ensure that community members are safe on this campus. For that reason, it was recommended that we install cameras on campus. As a result, I believe the cameras are being used appropriately.”
When asked about utilizing the security cameras for student surveillance, Mr. Bicknell responded, “We do not go out of our way to look for students on camera. Again, a breach of security and/or community safety will prompt a review of our security camera footage. And if our Security Officers identify people in the footage, we will follow up with those individuals.”
It is important for all members of the community to understand that the main purpose of the cameras is to protect everyone at Deerfield Academy. While the security cameras are never aimed towards surveying students, if the footage contains instances of a school rule violation, further actions could be taken.