Monday, March 21, 2011

Is Kyron's Law a Good Idea?

Last June, 7-year-old Kyron Horman disappeared from his elementary school without a trace. All eyes have been focused for quite some time on his stepmother in connection with his disappearance, but no arrests have been made and she remains a free woman and, for all I know, an innocent one. Now there is a push to put surveillance cameras in all elementary schools in Oregon, under a proposed law dubbed "Kyron's Law." Kyron's own school got cameras shortly after he disappeared, funded by a private citizen.

As a school administrator, there have been many times I wished I had video footage of an incident. The "he hit me first" thing gets very old, very fast. As more and more kids have cell phones, there have even been a couple of times when kids recorded an incident themselves, although more often than not the person recording was doing so to post it on YouTube, not to aid in the investigation.

One might argue that, had their been cameras in Kyron's school the day he disappeared, he might have been found by now. But I think that those who advocate for putting in surveillance cameras would go a step further, arguing that either he wouldn't have disappeared or that he definitely would have been found right away. That is, most likely, not true.

Surveillance cameras in schools give people, and particularly parents, a false sense of security. Because they might prevent some problems, we think they prevent all problems. But surveillance cameras are problematic themselves.

First of all, no matter how many cameras you install, there will most likely be someplace the cameras aren't. This is how most of us want it, because as much as we want to protect our kids, we don't want someone filming them in the bathroom or the locker room. This raises a larger issue, which is that there is a need to balance privacy with safety, and parents tend to be a stickler for both.

Second, if there are cameras and someone wants to snatch a kid or otherwise harm him, that person will go where the cameras aren't. That means that while the hallways and classrooms and buses may be safer, the bathrooms and locker rooms are more dangerous. In the case of Kyron Horman, if indeed his stepmother is responsible, she simply would not have used the school as her "alibi."

Third, and this is the toughest one for parents to wrap their heads around, we can't watch our kids 24/7. We do our best to keep them safe, and at some point we have done all we can. At night, when my kids are asleep in their rooms, I assume they are asleep in their rooms. I don't have a camera there, I don't sleep on the floor, and I don't check on them all that often. Could they disappear? Yes. Is that likely? No.

The fact of the matter is that Kyron's disappearance made the news because it was so rare. Kids do not disappear from school in the middle of the day. They disappear, if they disappear, from the neighborhood or the bus stop or walking to or from school, or even from their homes. But they don't go missing from their schools because that is actually a pretty hard place to snatch a kid. And putting in cameras may make it even harder, but is that really where you want that money to go? You can almost certainly do more to protect children by putting another layer of wood chips on the playground of every school, or posting another adult on their walking route. And that doesn't even take into consideration what educational use that money could be put to.

Once again, we, as parents, have to face up to the fact that dropping off our children at school is an act of faith. We also have to face the fact that parents are really not any better at protecting children than schools are. If Kyron's stepmother harmed him, the greatest risk he faced was not going to a school with no cameras, it was living with a family with her in it. And while cameras might have brought her to justice, they wouldn't have changed that risk factor one bit.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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