August 3 marked the start of a new school year for the more than 14,000 students in Effingham County Public Schools. And while back to school typically involves new clothes, fresh school supplies, and the grind of homework, students and teachers alike found something new in their classrooms ― cameras.
The move was approved by the Effingham County School Board and more than $2 million dollars was spent on the Kloud 12 camera system, which is currently in every classroom at the high school level. Superintendent Yancy Ford told WTOC that all middle schools will have cameras soon and they will be added to all elementary schools in the district next spring. Ford said the cameras were added to heighten security measures and will allow teachers to record their lessons if they choose. “We examined the safety initiatives we had in place and made a decision to dedicate resources to ramp up security measures within the district,” said Ford. “As we continue to look at ways we can support teachers and students from a safety standpoint, we felt like cameras in the classroom would be the next step. We have always had cameras in common areas through the school, but the classroom cameras would be an added safety feature.”
When asked if parents gave permission for their child to be recorded, Ford pointed to the student-parent handbook, which reads, “There is no expectation of privacy on buses nor in the public areas of Effingham County Schools. Video cameras may be placed on buses, classroom, and in the public areas of the campuses of Effingham County Schools. Video cameras should not be placed where they can record bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, or private offices. The presence of a video camera means that there is no expectation of privacy in that location.”
Effingham County resident Kenz Rose, who has children in the school system, said she sees the benefit, but wants to be sure parents have access to the footage, if need be.
“I do like it in case something goes wrong because then there is evidence but if the board of education makes it to where every parent has to file a subpoena just to access any surveillance cameras, then it’s not worth it,” Rose said.
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Effingham County is not the first school district to do this. Colquitt County approved plans to add cameras nearly two years ago.
According to Ford, the cameras will also be used to commend hard working teachers.“We have so many great teachers and the camera systems will be an option down the road to highlight exemplary teachers,” Ford said.
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Although the cameras were not added to monitor students’ behavior, Ford said if it can help combat bullying, he is all for it.
The Savannah Morning News received a copy of the district’s incidents of bullying , which shows 10 were reported at enCompass, a special needs school, but no reports of bullying were received during the 2022-2023 school year at South Effingham or Effingham County High School.
That contradicts the alleged racial bias reported in two lawsuits within the school district, both of which were filed just weeks apart this summer. On June 23, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and Troutman Pepper Law Firm filed a federal lawsuit, citing racial bias on behalf of current and former students in the Effingham County School District. A press release from the Ervin Law Firm states that former Effingham County High School baseball coach Shane Ramsey, “Experienced retaliation from his superiors in violation of the Georgia Whistleblower Act regarding a racially motivated incident in the baseball locker room at Effingham County High School in November 2022, which is the subject of a suit filed against the district by the ACLU.”
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Ford opted not to respond to questions surrounding multiple lawsuits against the school district.Students can utilize the TIP 411 APP and place anonymous complaints regarding bullying or other concerns. “Bullying in schools is something we take very seriously,” Ford said. “Our schools must be safe havens for our students. Before we can educate our students, we have to make sure we are providing a safe and welcoming learning environment. We expect students to report incidents that occur on campus that do not fall in line with our beliefs and I expect our staff to address those issues. We truly want to have great relationships with our students and families. We are excited to get the school year started.”Latrice Williams is a general assignment reporter covering Bryan and Effingham County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.