The controversial video of the former Dartmouth Junior High principal Ken Fells has now gone international, following news that it was leaked to Atlantic Frank by none other than the Halifax Board Superintendent’s husband, Dr. Chris Olsen. The shocking news about the source of the leak has touched off calls for a provincial inquiry and a full review of the Superintendent’s conduct. The latest crisis has brought the Board under world-wide scrutiny and is now among the most discussed educational topics virtually everywhere. Yet, among Nova Scotia officialdom, all of this has been greeted by a puzzling silence.
Three days after the damaging revelation, the Nova Scotia Education Minister Marilyn More was finally compelled to respond. Instead of addressing the fundamental issues, she announced a school video security crackdown, ignoring calls for a provincial inquiry and a full review of the Halifax Board Superintendent’s conduct. She may have taken her cue from the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. Amidst all the chaos of the recent revelations, the NSTU issued a peculiar Media Release (June 4, 2010) defending the reputation of Ken Fells and claiming it had been sullied by the Superintendent’s husband’s actions.
The Halifax Regional School Board is now under intense pressure to re-open the whole matter. The Toronto Globe and Mail and CNN have weighed in, both claiming that that Ken Fells used “excessive force” in “manhandling the student” to seize his cell phone. Public opinion is hardening, judging from the online comments on The Chronicle Herald news website. When CBC-TV Nova Scotia (June 4 ) asked – “Should Carole Olsen continue as the HRSB Superintendent?,” the results were overwhelming. Commentors calling for her departure outnumbered those opposed by a 3 to 1 margin. Adding to the confusion, one Board member has broken ranks and called for Ken Fells’ restoration at Graham Creighton Junior High School.
The Nova Scotia Education Department’s focus on school video surveillance will only open a new debate. By side-stepping the core issues, the Minister may have opened a new “can of worms.” Focusing on the security of school video systems seems like a strange response to all of this worldwide scrutiny. It might be interpreted as a reaction conditioned by a “siege mentality.” Lashing out at the “leakers” certainly protects the system and reassures the beleaguered staff. In all likelihood, the idea came from the NSTU and is aimed at calming the waters among teachers.
School boards now routinely video daily activities as a security measure and, since 9-11, most schools are well protected from intruders and emergency threats. All entrances and most hallways are under video surveillance. Some classrooms in Canada’s larger cities are also taped, allegedly for security reasons. Oddly enough, we may have Ken Fells to thank for making this known to a much wider audience.
After 9-11, we were quite willing to accept such massive intrusions into our personal lives because of the very real terrorist threat. Today, the challenges facing schools are quite different. Building collegial, trusting communities is, once again, an aspirational goal for schools.
The Big Question concerning School Video Surveillance is: How much school security is too much? Should we be taping virtually everything happening in our schools? Whose rights are being protected? In the case of the Ken Fells controversy, is it the rights of private property or individual rights? And whose individual rights?