Ashtonfield Public School used a surveillance camera over ‘vandalism and victimisation’

A Maitland public school has admitted it used a surveillance camera in a kindergarten classroom to gather evidence about alleged criminal activity.

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A letter from Ashtonfield Public School’s principal began by stating: “I can assure you that covert cameras are not installed at the school”.

But it then said: “Cameras were placed in one classroom to assist with identifying a perpetrator of repeated acts of vandalism and victimisation at the school”.

Ashtonfield Public School.

“These acts were occurring when students and the class teacher were not in the classroom.

“The classroom in question was KS [a kindergarten class].”

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison said she was “gravely concerned”, having received a number of calls fromparents.

“Parents have a right to know if their children are being monitored in their classrooms by secret cameras,” she said.

The school’s letter said the kindergarten teacher was “aware of the presence of the camera”.

However, a casual teacher had “noticed the camera” on the teacher’s desk.

She mentioned this in the staffroom and the camera was subsequently removed.

“There is no danger to any students or teachers at the school,” the letter said.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison.

Central Hunter Police crime manager, Detective Inspector George Radmore, said it was “a matter for the Education Department”.

Police were not investigating the fact that acamera was used in theclassroom.

Detective Inspector Radmore said workplace surveillance was “permitted under certain circumstances”.

He said the police did not put any cameras in classrooms at the school.

However, police were investigating allegations ofbullying and harassment at the school.

A NSW Department of Education spokesperson said the school had put “acamera in plain sight in a classroom as part of a response to a police matter”.

“The matter does not involve nor put any students at risk, but it is not appropriate for the school to comment on such matters,” the spokesperson said.

“CCTV cameras can support the school as a safe environment.

“The school has signage throughout advising that CCTV can be used outdoors and indoors in general-use areas and classrooms.”

The department said NSW public schools generally use CCTV for monitoring premises for “after-hours security” and “during the course of the working day for added security”.

CCTV could also be used to monitor “sick bays and student time-out rooms or other specific areas in schools”.

“The department must adhere to the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005,” the spokesperson said.

“Student wellbeing is Ashtonfield Public School’s highest priority.”

Ms Aitchison said the department should answer more questions about the matter.

“Something doesn’t add up here,” she said.

She noted that the principal’s letter referred to “cameras in one classroom”, but “there are allegations that there were cameras in two classrooms”.

“There are allegations that the cameras were hidden in different equipment in those classrooms,” she said.

“There are allegations that footage is missing.”

The department said the school had only“one camera in the one classroom at any one time”.

Ms Aitchison said one parent had been given different explanations from the school and department about why a camerawasthere.

“The concern is that no one appears to be clear and straight with the parents,” she said.

She said some kids could be “under Family Court or other orders not to be photographed or filmed”.

She knew of no other schools using surveillance cameras in this way.

The department made no further comment, saying “it is not appropriate to comment on a police matter”.

The Herald, Newcastle

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