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Parent raises concerns about security cameras at Capital HS

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A parent raised concerns about the several defunct cameras at Capital High School in Charleston. A parent raised concerns about the several defunct cameras at Capital High School in Charleston.
CHARLESTON, WV -

On his fifteenth birthday, Jace Sawyers found himself slammed against a wall at Capital High School during lunch.

"The last thing I remember, I was leaning up against the wall and waking up in the office bathroom," the freshman said.

Jace's mother, Jennifer Sawyers, said she barely recognized her own son when she picked him up from school.

"I was very upset obviously," she said, wiping away tears. "I had no idea that it was that severe."

The incident happened in the school's courtyard earlier this month. Clinton Giles said the fight ended before adults could intervene. 13 News obtained cell phone footage of the beating. After seeing her son's injuries, Sawyers wanted answers. She asked administrators for the video captured by the tilt-and-pan camera in the courtyard. She was denied.

"There is no surveillance video," Giles said. "In fact, the video surveillance system at this school is woefully inadequate."

Sawyers said the problem goes beyond the fight; the lapse raises questions about how the campus is monitored.

Sawyer said she was told the camera malfunction was an ongoing problem.

According to Giles, the PTA recently spent $5,000 to upgrade several cameras. Several devices still remain defunct.

"I don't mean to imply negligence," said Giles, who claims he's reported the problem to county administrators. "But you only have 'x' number of dollars."

Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Dr. Ron Duerring said it's an issue the county can fix.

"It's always a problem when they're not working, obviously. I mean we'd be crazy to say that it's not," Duerring said. "We can look at those and get those repaired, try to send somebody there to look at them. Sometimes these systems are so old, they can't even be repaired."

But both Duerring and Giles stressed a similar point: Cameras are only one barometer of school safety. Duerring mentioned locking windows and doors, as well as emphasizing a safety plan in case of emergencies.

When it comes to intruders, Capital High School is vigilant.

13 News reporter Alanna Autler tried walking onto campus unannounced. Within seconds, she was greeted by a vice principal.

A prevention resource officer from the Charleston Police Department also works full-time at the school.

Cameras and fights aside, Giles maintains Capital is a secure school.

"Capital High School is safe," Giles said, "It's not a place where marauding thugs seek out unwitting victims to beat down on a regular basis."

In an unrelated incident last week, a student brought a gun to Capital High School. Charleston Police detained the sixteen-year-old boy, and now administrators are determining whether he should be expelled. CHS came under fire after administrators did not put the school on lockdown.

Giles characterized this incident as a "bad decision by a student," stating video cameras would not have prevented the incident.

In recent years, several shootings around the country prompted local leaders to re-examine school safety measures. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin hosted a summit in February to open the conversation.

"Security cameras only show you what has happened oftentimes," Goodwin said. "They only show you in reverse."

Citing locking doors and gates, Goodwin said the best safeguards involving securing the perimeter and implementing safety plans. According to Duerring, every school submitted such a plan. Earlier this year, the county also hired a security expert to assess every school.

Most schools assign someone to watch the front door at all times, according to facilities director Chuck Wilson. "I don't think anyone's paid to watch cameras," Wilson said.

Nothing in West Virginia state code requires schools to install security cameras, according to School Building Authority Director Dr. Mark Manchin.

"We're not diminishing the importance of cameras," Manchin said in a phone interview. "Generally, cameras are about documenting. Access is the key word."

In June, the SBA approved key safety features for any new school they build. These include windows with shatterproof glass, concrete bollards that block access to entries, keyless entries, and lockdown buttons that instantly alert 911.