Commentary

Protecting our children, both in body and in mind

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In recent weeks, our hearts have been broken and our consciences racked by the awful massacre of elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas. As the days march on since the actual event, the systems and protocols responsible officials thought they had in place look to be anything but foolproof and fail-safe.

In many ways, they are looking downright misguided, and lacking in competent and courageous leadership and execution. This makes the pain all the more severe and tragic. We may not know how these events unfolded with the necessary precision for weeks and months, if ever.

This tragedy, of course, adds to the uniquely American phenomenon of recurring mass shootings at our schools, as well as in other public locations. You likely have your own thoughts on the “root causes” of such vicious assaults in our country, as do I. But it is not my purpose to address those causes; that’s for another column on another day.

On another axis of concern for our children in the hands of government schools, the last few years have generated a tidal wave of parental concerns over the infusion of “woke” ideology into the classrooms of their kids. It begins as early as kindergarten through grades 2 and 3, and includes exposure to vividly explained and illustrated variations on gender and sexuality spectrums. Equally as troubling is the infusion of critical race theory and related indictments of American culture and history.

Ironically, much of this came to light in the “remote learning” model employed for the multi-year Covid aberration. Parents saw with their own eyes what was going on and became agitated and engaged. They began to bring their concerns to their school boards and related school leadership, only to find out things were much worse and had been going on much longer than they realized.

Parents began waking up in organized ways to woke education systems, and the school establishments largely dismissed and stiff-armed parental concerns, which only made matters worse. Just another case of so-called “public servants” acting like public masters over the little people who pay them and trust their kids to their classrooms for 180 or so days per year. President Biden went so far as to light up the DOJ and the FBI to get involved in protecting against “domestic terrorism” at school board meetings.

On Today’s Technology Context

Whether we think about it this way or not, nearly everyone in this day and age, from the very youngest ages (think elementary school) to the very oldest, walks around with a video camera, and that camera is connected to virtually everyone else via the internet. Smart phones contain the cameras and recording abilities, and add to that very powerful computational abilities. Police can’t approach any situtation without a crowd of bystanders recording every aspect of what they do. Citizens record thefts, assaults, and other crimes taking place in broad daylight.

Aside from smart phones, video cameras are everywhere, and that term applies in the broadest sense. In the dentist’s chair, inside your body during “scoping” of one sort or another, in airports, on street corners, in businesses, in door-bells, in homes. It’s impossible to list them all, but suffice it to say that video cameras these days come pretty close to the old notion of a “dime a dozen.” You’ve probably seen the outputs of Go-Pro technology in the Indy 500 and NASCAR races.

Throughout the country, body-cameras for law enforcement officers have become pretty standard as a means to protect both the officer and the suspects in confrontations. I want to believe that just about every public (and private) school has cameras in hallways, entries, and gathering spots.

The reality is that such cameras are extremely affordable, reliable, unobtrusive, and easy to install and connect into networked video systems that allow for remote monitoring and recording. Cars these days are loaded with video cameras–perhaps a dozen–that implement various safety features.

Protecting Our Children in Both Mind And Body

Considering the foregoing, the following proposal is offered as entirely feasible, affordable, and eminently worthy as a means to enhance the safety of our school children physically, educationally, and socially.

Let’s start by placing video cameras in every classroom that captures the content of each day’s instruction, and provides a live feed to a central video control board in the building. Additionally, cameras would be placed at every entrance and exit, every hallway, and any other relevant passageway and central office area. Auditoriums, lunch areas, libraries, playgrounds, and gyms would be covered with their own cameras.

The live video stream of every one of these cameras could be displayed simultaneously on a number of centrally located large monitors in a security office, which would be the office of the school resource officer(s). Servers would provide large scale storage capacity for the video from each source. Duplicate monitoring capability could be provided in the principal’s office, and remotely in central education offices and police headquarters. For school departments that have their own “police chief,” as Uvalde apparently does, their office would have access to the video feeds of every school and school property in the system.

For flexibility of patrolling personnel, like school resource officers, a portable tablet could be carried on which all video feeds are displayable.

Should, heaven forbid, another Uvalde-type assault by an armed perpetrator occur under the scenario just described, live video into each and every classroom and other student location would be instantly available and recorded. There would be no questions about whether this is a “barricade” or an “active shooter” situation. The cameras around the facility would also provide audio to the central control offices.

From what we are hearing so far, it would seem that such a systemic approach would eliminate, or at least minimize, the kind of response confusion that plagued Uvalde. Given evolving processing capabilities, it’s also entirely possible that automated response algorithms could be implemented, and used to set off alarm and lockdown measures.

Now for the second part of the thought process. Since cameras would be providing live video and audio in every classroom, that video could be made available over secure internet connections to allow parents to view activity in their children’s classrooms, all day long if they wish.

“Educators” will likely protest this “intrusion” into their teaching “space.” That bridge has already been crossed with months and years of “remote learning.” Let’s remember–they are public employees being paid for by us, and they are being given custody of our children for multiple hours every school day. Any objections on their parts should be taken as obstruction by the establishment to the basics of public transparency and accountability, and be dealt with accordingly. I doubt they would rather have parents sit in the back of their classrooms observing in person.

This basic concept would easily evolve to a far more “intelligent” and comprehensive system; technology never stands still. But it represents an efficient, affordable, eminently doable means by which to monitor not only the physical safety of the students on school premises, but the values, ideology, and knowledge with which they are being taught.

About Pem Schaeffer

Pem Schaeffer is a retired engineer who progressed to a position in business development leadership in defense electronics. He lives and writes in Brunswick, Maine, and blogs at: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at pemster4062@yahoo.com or you can always buy him lunch at a Maine Policy Institute luncheon. He's easy that way, and he'll still respect you if you do.

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