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Santa Fe schools consider allowing police access to surveillance cameras

SANTA FE – Santa Fe Public Schools will consider entering into a memorandum of understanding with the police department that would allow for police access to on-campus surveillance cameras, but only in emergency situations.

The school board on Tuesday heard from attorney Geno Zamora who talked about the impact such an agreement would have on the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, a federal law that protects the privacy of students.

Zamora said the MOU would have to define “access,” but assured the board that any MOU would be “limited to emergency situations.”

Superintendent Veronica Garcia said that up to now the school district had a “gentleman’s agreement” to allow police access in certain situations. She said she had allowed police access to surveillance video from Capital or Santa Fe high schools a handful of times since a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last February.

One recent incident she mentioned involved a Capital High student brandishing a gun and there have been several situations where threats were made at Santa Fe High in recent years.

Cameras are only in common areas, like hallways and school grounds, she said, not in classrooms, bathrooms or locker rooms.

Discussion of police access to surveillance cameras on school grounds was placed on the agenda by board president Steven Carrillo as a discussion item after the Santa Fe New Mexican published a Sunday article on police use of surveillance cameras around town.

While not disputing the accuracy of the piece, Carrillo said the article left the impression that police were conducting “24/7 surveillance of high schools,” raising questions about violations of students’ civil liberties. He said he had heard from one constituent asking whether police would need a warrant to gain access to surveillance video.

Another question was raised about whether the superintendent had the authority to grant police permission to access video. Carrillo was quoted in the article as saying that granting police access would “demand board support before being enacted.”

Superintendent Garcia on Tuesday said that she was hired to make quick decisions and that “I will always err on the (side of the) safety of students.”

The discussion got testy at times, with board members Lorraine Price stating that the board president didn’t speak for her and Kate Noble expressing concern over “micro-managing tendencies.”

Carrillo concluded by saying he was happy the board agreed to have the discussion, even if there was disagreement.

“Hopefully, we learn from each other’s positions,” he said.