Teachers may not be the only ones keeping a watchful eye on children at school these days. Unblinking camera lenses and other gear are increasingly being employed to quell rowdy behavior and fight school crime.
At Florida's Miami-Dade Public Schools, where there are more than 330,000 students and only 135 security officers, school police use closed circuit cameras to monitor hallways they can't always patrol.The monitoring systems, including motion sensors, have allowed officers to turn their attention from hall monitoring to areas where there is a greater need, says Eugene McCallister, director of security for the Miami-Dade Public Schools.
"This system has cut down on vandalism, students hanging out in halls and the number of thefts," said McCallister. "We can now concentrate on other parts of the schools that we couldn't before."
Similar state of the art security also was a priority in the design of one recently opened school in the Dallas, Texas, public school district.
The Town View Magnet Center, opened in 1995, is equipped with 30 video cameras. Located in virtually every public area on campus and in the parking lot, the cameras are monitored throughout the day from a control room by one of six officers on the campus.
Many school districts, including Dallas, are improving the environmental design of their campuses as well by trimming shrubbery and tree branches, replacing brick fences with chain link fences and using clear glass in doors and windows instead of decorative glass to provide fewer hideouts.
Recent studies demonstrate the necessity of crime fighting in schools.
A 1995 study conducted be the Justice Department found an estimated two million teenagers are victims of violent crime annually. About 9 percent of inner-city high school students were victims of an incident involving a gun, knife or other weapon at least once.
And students are generally pleased with the improved safety measures, said Lt. Donovan Collins, with the Dallas Public Schools Department of Safety and Security.
"This is catching on in a lot of school districts and the kids seem to like it," he said. "This is their school and they want to feel safe."
Although school officials say the need for more security is real, critics argue that too much money is sometimes spent.
"School districts are spending an inordinate amount of money on security equipment without having a clear understanding of what it is they can accomplish with it," said Pete Blauvelt, president of the National Alliance of Safe Schools, a 20-year old association formed by school security directors.
"There is a perception out there that more is better," he said.
Although he agrees that in certain areas there is a need for heightened security, Blauvelt said the systems that are installed should be left up to individual schools rather than being purchased by the school system.
"It is a major expenditure that takes away from what is spent on education," Blauvelt said.