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Published: Thursday, 5/25/2006

Security cams doing job, but mood is glum

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Once, Airport Community Schools was considered a quiet, rural school system where the problems of big-city schools were nonexistent.

That picture has changed in recent years.

Last year, on four occasions, vandals struck the Airport High School and Wagar Middle School campus parking lot on Grafton Road in Carleton, Mich.

This school year, there has been a series of bomb threats at both the high school and the middle school.

As a result, school officials decided to install security cameras in the parking lot and in both of the schools. The parking-lot cameras were installed last summer, the school cameras last month.

The decision appears to be paying off.

"They have worked well; they have deterred our problem," said Daniel Fahnestock, Airport's transportation and emergency services director.

School officials and teachers are having a harder time coping with the use of security technology than students.

"I think there's more resentment on the part of the staff," Wagar Principal Mark Arnold said. "We're a rural school district, and we have to resort to this type of technology for this purpose."

Mr. Arnold continued: "I've been with the district a long time, and I'm kind of disappointed. Practically, I believe in the need. Philosophically, I wish we didn't have to do it. It's like [having] Big Brother [here]."

Larry Audet, who became Airport superintendent in January, said after most of the problems ceased that recent data have shown that rural schools have as many student-discipline problems as urban schools.

"We wish it was the '50s and '60s, when [school safety] was not a national concern," he said. "We no longer live in those times. [We have] taken pro-active decisions to minimize disruptions."

School officials would not say how many bomb threats there were. They began in November and were found in rest rooms in the high school and middle school.

Officials worked with the school's Monroe County Sheriff's Department school liaison, Deputy Jeff Smith, and the sheriff's department in an investigation that remains ongoing. An unspecified number of students have been disciplined, school officials said.

"[For] the students who were found guilty, the school board has taken the most serious consequences it can apply and has applied them," Mr. Audet said.

Using $34,000 from a Monroe County technology levy, the three cameras were installed in the parking lot and the school- bus parking lot; five cameras were installed in hallways near restrooms in the high school; and four cameras were installed in similar locations in the middle school. Mr. Audet and Deputy Smith have access to screens to monitor real-time activity, and tapes are available to view previous activity.

Teachers have volunteered to monitor the rest rooms, Mr. Arnold said.

Mr. Audet said school officials were up-front with students about their intentions.

"We told the students where they were and why they were there. The reason is to prevent kids from choosing to make bad decisions. That's a different message than not telling people and just catching kids," he said.

Mr. Audet said parents have been supportive of the security program.

"We've only had positive comments," he said.

Officials have the option to add more cameras, if necessary. Mr. Fahnestock hopes the expense won't be necessary.

"It's a shame we have to spend money for deterring bad behavior," he said. "But it's better than having to deal with problems and spending money [cleaning up problems] caused by vandalism."

Contact George Tanber at

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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