In the wake of the April 16 arrest of a Fairfield Central High School custodian, who was caught on video stealing money from a classroom, the Fairfield County School Board Tuesday night received a legal briefing on the use of security cameras from the District’s attorney, Ken Childs.
“Federal law governing video taping in public schools favors the allowance of video recording in non-private settings,” Childs told the Board during their Tuesday work session. “South Carolina law … sets up a legal framework whereby school districts in South Carolina can use video cameras in schools in public areas.”
Childs also said District employment policies have put employees on notice that “misconduct will be investigated fully.” In addition to that policy and state and federal law, Childs said, the Fairfield County School District has a contract with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office to provide School Resource Officers (SROs). According to that agreement, Childs said, the SRO shall coordinate all of their activities with the principals and staff members concerned and school officials shall be notified of an incident the SROs are investigating as soon as possible.
School Resource Officers arrested Andre Ross Jones April 16 and charged him with larceny. The officers set up surveillance cameras in several classrooms after receiving reports that $160 had been stolen from a classroom on April 13. The investigation was coordinated with the principal and staff of Fairfield Central High School.
Board member Annie McDaniel asked why, if the School District had handled the investigation properly, did the Board feel the need for this legal briefing.
“Apparently these cameras were used in a cooperative effort between the Sheriff’s Office and the School District Office,” Childs said. “The problem, as I understood it, came up because somehow these pictures were released to a television station in Columbia.”
The School District, Childs said, had nothing to do with the release of the video to the television station.
“I would hope that we, in our sense of cooperation between the School District and the Sheriff’s Office, could work together in getting this information out according to policy, according to state statute — not hiding the information, but working together to release it so that it comes out in a positive light what we’ve done, and not a negative light,” Board member Beth Reid said. “I thought the whole situation was handled well. The SROs did what they should have done. A thief was caught.”
Board member Danielle Miller suggested the Board review the SRO contract with the County.
“There are things in the contract that we haven’t adhered to, and neither have they,” Miller said. “We just need to sit down and have an open dialogue … as to access to different things, the evaluations we’re supposed to be doing regarding the SROs and the County every year.”
The Board did take up a discussion of the SRO contract later in the meeting, the necessity of which McDaniel also questioned given the conclusions reached by Childs’ legal briefing.
Interim superintendent David Eubanks suggested a review of the contract might be helpful in order to clarify any items that may not be specific enough.
“Some things aren’t entirely clear in the contract,” Eubanks said.
“Did that contract not go through committee and discussion about SROs when we went from the Town (Winnsboro Public Safety) to the Sheriff’s Office?” McDaniel asked. “There’s so much that needs to happen between now and the end of the year and the new school year, (why do we need) to tie Dr. Eubanks’ hands by going over the contract when Mr. Childs said everything was fine?”
Eubanks said some areas of the contract could stand to be made more specific. Childs added that he did not mean to give the impression that “everything was fine,” but that it was “not all bad.”
Childs said there were a number of provisions to the contract his office suggested at the time the contract was being negotiated but that were not included in the final contract.
Andrea Harrison, Board Chairwoman, said the contract issues could be worked out over the course of the summer and that the Board’s focus should remain on academics.