Contact 13 Investigates
Principal accused of setting up cameras to spy at school
Clark County, NV (KTNV) -- Imagine going to a place every day where your every move, your every word is being recorded.
Now imagine that place is a Clark County school and you're an employee, a parent, or a student.
That's what Contact 13 uncovered at a local high school.
Now Chief Investigator Darcy Spears is asking the school district how they draw the line between security and what some call spying.
One employee says "It just makes you feel like... you're just creeped out. It's just like Big Brother is always watching."
Another adds "No one in their right mind would believe that a principal was recording all those individuals."
Employees at the Academy for Individualized Study high school say their principal and others in school administration were watching and listening to everything they did and said at the specialized alternative education school.
Employees believed... "It was basically to spy on them."
And not just them. According to Elena Rodriguez, who served as assistant principal at AIS in the 2010/2011 school year, students and parents were all subject to those watchful eyes in the sky when AIS was at the old Bishop Gorman campus on Maryland Parkway.
Anita Wilbur is AIS' principal.
"I counted about 25 cameras," Elena says. "She put two cameras per room -- registrar's, counselor's office. We already had the five in the main office. She also put them in the special ed classroom, the computer lab..."
Contact 13 counted 23 in just one box at the old campus. And employees tell us that at least one of them was hidden inside a plant in the principal's office.
Principal Wilbur refused to talk to us so we had to take our questions to CCSD Spokesperson Amanda Fulkerson.
Darcy Spears: "Why did she need a hidden camera in the plant in her office?"
Amanda: "Um, that camera was pointed at the door of her office, it's absolutely there."
Darcy: "Why hide it in a plant?"
Amanda: "That's a good question. That's not one that I can answer. According to her it wasn't hidden, per se, in that everyone knew that it was there."
"We was in there a lot of times in the principal's office and I didn't know she had cameras in there," says Tonia Rayford, whose daughter was an AIS student last year.
She acknowledges seeing orange signs posted at the school saying it was under video surveillance.
Darcy: "When you saw that sign, what did you think it meant?"
Tonia: "I mean like surveillance around the campus, you know, outside, parking lot, stuff like that. But not in her personal office or in the registration office."
Darcy: "If audio's being used, should it say that on the sign?"
Amanda: "That's something we'll look into."
Fulkerson says all schools use cameras for security purposes to protect students, staff and the parents that come in.
"And we say that anytime you come onto a taxpayer-funded property, especially an alternative school, the expectation should be pretty low of privacy."
Pictures employees took and gave to Contact 13 show some of the cameras that were mounted in classrooms -- some of which were used by guidance counselors.
"Students that were pregnant, students that were raped, students that were being bullied, students that were on drugs -- all this was being discussed with counselors, registrars, myself included and we weren't aware at that time we were being audio recorded. And neither did the parents," says Elena.
She says employees found out they were being audio recorded at a March staff meeting when they confronted the school's technical staff.
"As a matter of fact, they were laughing about the fact that they could hear some people sing, some people hum, and they could hear all conversations. Two of the counselors asked directly, 'then you can hear everything we're saying?' And the answer was, yes, we can."
Another employee who, like Elena, still works for the District, asked us to protect her identity.
"We did have a high traffic office but we never had any reason really for security cameras. There was a lot of money being moved around but that was in the banker's office and there was no camera on her office."
Darcy: "I don't think anybody would argue with wanting to be safe on campus. I don't think anybody would argue with having video surveillance at the entrance to a school. But I don't think you're going to be able to sell anybody on recording their conversations with a guidance counselor or a principal inside the privacy of that principal's office."
Amanda: "Well again, I think that these cameras were not used to any ill intention."
Contact 13 has connected with eight former AIS employees who now work at other District schools.
Many wrote to Anita Wilbur's supervisors describing a hostile environment where everyone was being spied on by a principal on a power trip.
Counselors were especially concerned. One wrote, "cameras, with audio, inside of my office... is extremely disturbing to me as a professional school counselor due to the confidential issues which I discuss with my counselees."
Employees complained all the way up the chain of command to Superintendent Dwight Jones and the Board of Trustees.
Elena says it all fell on deaf ears.
"It makes me believe that the word transparency doesn't have the same meaning for me that it does for the District and the word accountability doesn't have the same meaning. I mean, I had to actually go to Channel 13 to get this information out."
The school district now plans to re-open the case and investigate.
"We're not gonna just sweep complaints under the rug. I'm not gonna discount what these people are saying. We'll absolutely go back and take a look at it," Fulkerson promised.
AIS moved out of the old Bishop Gorman campus over the summer.
They're now located inside the Vegas PBS building.
When we asked if the principal and counselor's offices here are rigged with cameras, the District couldn't answer us because they don't know.
And Anita Wilbur still refuses to return our multiple calls and emails.
We will continue digging for answers.
We want your thoughts on surveillance cameras in schools.
Should you expect any privacy on school grounds -- in the principal's office -- with the guidance counselors?
Where is it OK for cameras to be?
Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org