Hidden cameras discovered in Valdez schools

Christine Kim,Chris Klint

Two hidden cameras have been found at Valdez schools, prompting local educators to place two employees on unpaid administrative leave, according to district administrators.

Valdez City School District Superintendent Jacob Jensen said Thursday that one camera was found in the staff lounge at Gilson Junior High School, while the other was discovered in a custodial area of Valdez High School. He says the cameras, as well as two laptop computers to which they transmitted their images, were apparently being used to monitor custodial staff.

"One was in the junior high staff lounge pointed directly at an evening custodial computer, and another camera was in a custodial room — in the back room, where it was perceived theft had been happening," Jensen said. "The custodial computer used in the evenings is in the teachers' lounge, so it was pointed at that computer."

Jensen says two custodial employees were placed on leave over the incident, and that an employee had also given him a compact disc containing images taken by the cameras. He says school administrators have swept the buildings in a search for any additional cameras.

"They were installed inside the schools without my knowledge — also, none of the school administrators knew about them," Jensen said. "We also solicited the help of the Valdez Police Department; they've done a sweep of our schools also, to make sure there are no additional cameras."

Local police are examining the laptops and the camera data to determine whether any criminal charges might apply. Meanwhile, Jensen says he's surprised to hear about the situation.

"I was very shocked," Jensen said. "That is not something I would ever condone or permit to have happened — if there was concern about supervision, there's ways to do that without a hidden camera."

Jensen said the cameras did not record audio and was set to take video only after school hours, but teachers aren't buying it.

"To say it just came on at those times, I have never seen something like that act on a timer, so I have real doubts if it's true or not," said Barb Lyons, who teaches at the junior high.

Lyons said although the school is a public facility, there's an expectation of privacy in the faculty lounge where teachers not only talk about students and confidential topics, but an area that's used for various purposes, such as students taking exams and a room for sports team coaches and officials to change clothes.

Lyons believes there was more than one camera in the lounge previously, and that this has been going on for months. She said Tuesday night's discovery of the cameras changed the school atmosphere.

"All of a sudden now there's a big distrust issue," said Lyons. "Why are we being watched, why are we being recorded, what have we done? It opens up so many trust issues."

Parents are angry they weren't informed, and want answers to how long the cameras were rolling and if their child was filmed.

"If there weren't laws broken maybe we should make some laws. If it wasn't illegal or against school policy it's certainly against the wishes of the parents of the students," said Jeri Devens, the mother of two students at the high school. "We had no idea this was going on. We're not very happy about it."