Principals defend use of camera in bathroom

Principals defend use of camera in bathroom

A high school is reviewing the position of a security camera following backlash by parents over privacy and a lack of communication.

Over the school holidays, Queen Elizabeth College, a co-ed secondary school in Palmerston North, installed a security camera inside a female bathroom that had sufferedmore than $15,600 worth of damage.

The camera had a view of the sink, walkway and the external doors of toilet stalls. A single female school administrator could access the footage and the footage would only be viewed if vandalism occurred.

Principal and board of trustees member Chris Moller​ said the camera's installation followed "several and ongoing problems” with vandalism, including sinks and toilets being blocked, just in the one bathroom.

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Students were told about cameras on the first day of term 3. In the week following, there had been no incidents of vandalism.

For female students who wanted to use camera-free bathrooms, there were three other bathrooms, plus a changing room in the gymnasium.

Moller said the school’s surveillance policy, which stated cameras would be in corridors or outside areas, was in review and would be discussed at a board meeting on Tuesday, and a whānau meeting on Wednesday.

A mother of four female students, who wished to remain anonymous, said parents and students did not know about the camera until Friday, five days after school had resumed.

“It is fricking [sic] disgusting that they were not told where the camera was,” she said.

Principals defend use of camera in bathroom

“We are not just mad there is a camera in the toilet though, we are mad there was no proper consultation with the school community.”

A sign saying “24 hours. Camera in use” was placed above the bathroom door on Monday.

Vaughan Couillault​, president of the Secondary School Principals Association, said schools were not required to inform anyone if they were installing a camera.

“Sometimes covert cameras produce the best results ... though used for after-hours stuff, mostly external, unless damage is being done in specific spaces,” he said.

Couillault was a principal and had observed an increase in “wilful damage with significant financial cost” in recent years.

“Kids have been skipping classes and hiding in bathrooms for generations.”

But what was new, was the “increased pressure to combat social ills”.

He said space around the sinks did not need to be private in order to maintain the dignity of students.

Queenstown’s Wakatipu High School made headlines in July when a student was stood down after being caught on security camera repeatedly entering a toilet cubicle with other students.

Their security camera was installed in the corridor. The glass bathroom door allowed the camera to see inside the bathroom but could not see more than what a passer-by could.

Helen Hurst​, Ministry of Health deputy secretary for sector enablement and support, said the school requested advice on Monday.

The Privacy Commission has been approached for comment.