Last week, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) announced a $12 million grant to help schools install security cameras, and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), which still lacks cameras in all buildings, is one of the recipient school districts. According to the VDOE press release, just four FCPS schools will receive money for surveillance, which means FCPS’s usual sluggish pace to protect student safety continues.
For an entire decade, FCPS has slow-walked installing security cameras in its schools even though 80% of American schools already use them. Last month, the school board again debated putting cameras in FCPS schools. Given this failure to protect students, it’s no wonder that FCPS superintendent Scott Brabrand didn’t mention security cameras in his 2 ½ minute video addressing the recent school shooting in Michigan.
It’s baffling that FCPS still has not placed cameras in all its schools, especially after an adult male broke into Chantilly high school and sexually assaulted a teenage student this fall. And this isn’t the first time something like this happened at FCPS. In 2019, a convicted sex trafficker was arrested for breaking into an FCPS elementary school. In fact, at the same meeting where the school board debated cameras last month, it held a closed session to hear updates from its defense lawyer about a horrific lawsuit against FCPS in which a 12-year-old girl alleged she was raped by multiple perpetrators at Rachel Carson Middle School.
Perhaps most astonishingly, FCPS has admitted that human trafficking—yes, you read that correctly—is a major problem at FCPS, with victims found in EVERY high school and some middle and elementary schools. For years, local media outlets have discussed how human trafficking has occurred in the halls of FCPS schools. Common sense holds that cameras would help prevent all these situations.
FCPS’s own numbers, even via its flawed and self-serving youth survey, further support the need for cameras. For example, in the youth survey, nearly 600 students claim they participate in gangs, roughly 4,000 students said they’re afraid to go to school, and nearly 12,000 of the students believe that bullying is a problem at their schools. Importantly, the survey only captures a fraction of all FCPS students. Yet FCPS referred fewer than 200 students for formal disciplinary hearings because of violent offenses. And these numbers do not cover teacher-on student violence, which we know is a problem. Surely, cameras would help shed some light on what happens in FCPS buildings.
Cameras are essential to protecting civil rights, which should seem obvious after video evidence played a critical role in convicting Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd and the three vigilantes in the racially motivated killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
FCPS, on paper, claims to share a deep commitment to civil rights. Its “One Fairfax” vision, strongly supported by our organization, claims that equity and justice are some of the guiding principles that motivate FCPS. If that’s the case, why does FCPS slow-walk cameras in schools?
Money is a disingenuous excuse for FCPS to have not installed cameras. FCPS has a $3.1 billion budget. It also squanders millions each year on various vendors, and pork, including millions to law firms like Sands Anderson, Turner & Kinney, and of course, Hunton Andrews, to cover up their civil rights violations. Regardless, cameras would likely only cost a few million at most to install, an
d likely even less to maintain, essentially making them a rounding error.
In fact, cameras would probably reduce FCPS legal expenses. As some people are surprised to learn, police unions actually support body-worn cameras for officers. The reason for this, is because more often than not, they exonerate officers rather than implicate them. Similarly, if FCPS teachers and administrators are doing the right thing, the cameras will exonerate them, and potentially save the cost of litigation and other grievances.
But that’s just it—FCPS probably opposes (or at least slow walks) cameras because too many of its administrators are not doing the right thing. For example, FCPS just settled a massive class action which alleged that FCPS wrongly shackled and chained disabled students.
As federal Judge Rossie Alston described in a July 2020 opinion, students and their parents accused FCPS of holding children in confinement until they defecated their pants, put disabled children in chokeholds, and dragged children barefoot down the hallway for not completing their math homework. If any of this abuse was caught on tape, it would have been a national scandal. In other school districts, cameras have been used as proof of larger bullying and school safety issues.
FCPS currently has an astounding 15+ open federal civil rights investigations, and recently settled 14 in recent years. FCPS apparently has lots to hide.
Schools need to be safe and transparent and they need to respect civil rights laws. Cameras are the least parents, students, and the community should demand.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a story where cameras in FCPS would have helped? If so, comment below or send them to us at shatterthesilenceFCPS@gmail.com.
Shatter the Silence Fairfax County Public Schools is a non-partisan, grassroots, non-profits founded by parents, students, survivors, and their supporters. The purpose of the organization is to raise awareness about sexual harassment and violence in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), as well as demand accountability and reform for civil rights violations that occur in FCPS. Please visit our website at www.shatterthesilenceFCPS.org and sign our petition. You can also follow us on twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.