Articulo Time. Time. 11/10/04
After Beslan, Europe's schools look to cameras to keep children safe without restricting their room to grow We like to think of our schools as havens of innocence, free spaces in which children can explore a world untouched by harsh reality. But across Europe these days, more and more of those explorations are being closely monitored. At the Portchester School in Bournemouth, a town with one of the lowest income levels in Britain, 986 boys in uniforms and ties pass nine closed-circuit lenses in the corridors as they move between classes. Three exterior cameras mounted on 5-m poles swivel above the school's parking lot and playing fields. School facilities manager John Floyd watches the screens in his office, guarding against threats from without and within. Since the cameras were installed in 2001, school spending on replacement windows has dropped from $14,380 a year to virtually zero. The cameras snared a pupil hurling a brick through a window after being sent home from a school trip, and two would-be bike thieves wielding bolt cutters. "We don't like having the intrusion, but it works," Floyd says. Students initially objected, but now hardly notice the system. Asked to locate a corridor camera, a 13-year-old student fails to find it until another points upward. "I like it," he says. "It protects us." Protection has been on parents' minds this school year. The hundreds of children who died after Chechen insurgents seized Beslan's School No. 1 set new and terrible records, but students have, of course, been caught in the crossfire before. A series of violent attacks in the past decade has forced school administrators to take preventive action against an array of threats — from vandals and burglars to murderers and terrorists. "School-related terrorism incidents are extremely rare, but they do occur," says Michael Dorn, a school security expert with Jane's Information Group who is writing a book about terrorism in schools. Protestants left pipe bombs near a Catholic school in Belfast in 2001 and 2003. Last November, arsonists set fire to a new wing of an Orthodox Jewish school in Gagny, a suburb east of Paris. Sixteen children and their teacher were shot dead at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996. Two teenagers cut down 12 fellow pupils and a coach at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. And an expelled student killed 16 people in a shooting rampage at a high school in Erfurt, Germany, in 2002.
So school officials everywhere know better than to assume that it can't happen to them. And they have sought ways to protect their students and staff members from both intruders and disgruntled insiders. Happily, these precautions have generally had to cope with little more than run-of-the-mill vandalism — and they have helped reduce it. England has embraced cctv in the classroom perhaps more than any other country. Its 21,000 schools now have thousands of the cameras, many of them purchased with $216 million in government funds made available after the Dunblane massacre. When John Floyd closes the Portchester School for the night or the weekend, he diverts the monitoring to a remote surveillance center some 95 km away in Chippenham. The center is run by a private company that supplies cctv equipment to about 40 schools in the region and monitors five of them after hours through a high-speed Internet connection at a cost of $2,700 to $5,400 a year each. If infrared detectors are triggered at any of the schools, the center is alerted; operators look for intruders on their display screens and call in the police, if necessary. Some countries have been reluctant to follow the English example. German authorities question whether electronic eyes staring down on students and teachers do more harm than good. "Unless there is an actual threat, it's important that we don't shake the kids' feeling of being safe at school by an atmosphere poisoned by insecurity," says Josef Kraus, headmaster of an 800-pupil high school in Bavaria and president of the German Teachers' Association. "We need them to be carefree, and that carefreeness would vanish in a Big Brother climate." But Germans don't discount the threat. Just days after the Beslan massacre, a delegation from the German federal intelligence agency (bnd) flew to Beslan for a briefing on the hostage crisis, North Ossetia parliament chairman Taymuraz Mamsurov told TIME. He said the visit came after the group realized that a school seizure could happen anywhere. (Moscow area schools plan to respond by issuing identification documents to students and installing panic buttons, city and regional officials said.) A move toward increased security in schools could, however, find favor among Germans — a poll in February found that most respondents approved of cameras in schools, though only a handful of Germany's 42,000 schools have invested in surveillance. Berliner Tor Commercial School in Hamburg installed 14 cameras in 2001 at a cost of $74,000. Headmaster Heinz Fänders can watch the monitors from his desk. He has little patience for privacy concerns. "The collective security interests of the school community are more important than the rights of the individual," he says. "It's not that we'd have them in the classrooms — they'd be totally out of place there." The Capitanio Institute in Bergamo, Italy, installed 24 interior cameras before reopening this September — some in classroom laboratories — without consulting parents or unions. When word got out, the strongest opposition came from the latter. The chief of the Bergamo chapter of the cgil teachers' union, Corrado Barachetti, said: "Teaching a lesson is one thing; teaching while you are constantly being monitored is another." Students appear more relaxed about the issue. Since Heinrich-Mann high school, in a tough working-class district of Berlin, installed a cctv camera above its high, green iron gates in April, "It's rare now that something happens," says Benjamin Schrör, a 16-year-old smoking with friends outside the school. "Ever since they put in the camera, the police aren't here that much anymore." Surveillance itself probably couldn't stop a Beslan-style rampage — it would merely document it. So schools that consider themselves at risk, such as Jewish, international and American schools, take extra precautions. The American School of Paris levies a j270 "exceptional surcharge" to cover the cost of such features as a heavy metal gate, security guards, dogs, fences and cctv monitors at its closed suburban campus 15 minutes west of Paris. The International School of Paris in the 16th arrondissement has cameras, but another of its defensive measures is remaining anonymous. "There is no sign," says Isabelle Giraud-Carrier, the business manager. "We do not advertise that we are an international school." School officials don't kid themselves about what such measures can achieve. "You will never have 100% security," says Hamburg headmaster Fänders. "If somebody intentionally sets out to kill others, there is nothing you can really do to prevent it — unless you turn a school into some kind of Alcatraz. And that's not something either students or staff will accept."
Suplemento Temático: Formación y Seguridad