JERICHO, Vt. (USA Today) -- For seven years, the video cameras sat in boxes gathering dust at Mount Mansfield Union High School.
Now the same cameras that were yanked down from school hallways after parents and students complained are on the verge of going back up. What's changed?
The answer can be summarized in two words: Newtown shootings.
Since 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December, education officials in Vermont and across the nation have taken steps to review and increase security. That's driving a renewed interest in surveillance cameras.
The proposal to install eight cameras inside Mount Mansfield Union was approved by the school board Thursday night. Although the plan has critics it is not generating as much opposition as it did the first time around.
Parents who emailed Principal Mike Weston in response to a letter announcing that interior cameras were under consideration were almost all in favor. And many students supported the proposal.
It makes sense to install the cameras, said Haley Kessler, an 18-year-old Mount Mansfield Union senior from Jericho and student representative on the school board.
"They are just for safety reasons, if we need them, if something were to happen," she said.
Mount Mansfield Union, a suburban high school with about 940 students, already has five cameras on exterior of the building. They were installed seven years ago as part of the project that included the interior surveillance equipment that ultimately came down after a few months because of complaints.
At the time, the school board decided that the outside cameras could stay. They have been a helpful tool in resolving building vandalism and other matters, according to Weston.
Use of cameras at other Chittenden County schools varies considerably. Burlington High School Some have none. But one hight school has 32.
Because Mount Mansfield Union already owns the cameras, it will cost very little to put them back up and the project can be funded within the existing school maintenance budget, Weston said.
The small price tag does not mollify critics with broader concerns. Cameras have little value as a security measure and send the wrong message to students, said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.
"I get questions about this in waves and it's pretty clear that we're going through another wave now because of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut," Gilbert said.
The first impulse after an incident is often to put in surveillance, but it's not necessarily the most effective course, Gilbert said.
School officials should ask themselves what they hope to accomplish and whether surveillance is a wise use of scarce resources.
Then they should ask a deeper question, Gilbert said. "Do they really want to create an environment in which everybody is watched and everybody is a suspect?"
Students have no choice but to attend school, and when they are under surveillance by the adults in charge via cameras it can have a chilling effect, Gilbert said.
"You really do have cameras to try and catch people doing things, supposedly, so you have everybody feeling like a suspect."
It's easy to see how cameras help solve crimes. Footage of the Boston marathon bombers sent a powerful reminder of that fact recently. Many school administrators say cameras help identify culprits in vandalism, fights and other incidents in and around school.
Defense or offense?
But do they have the potential to prevent a serious incident?
That's a debate. Lanza's carnage was over in five minutes. The school entrance had a buzzer system, but it did not keep Lanza out.
Even some supporters of surveillance, including Mount Mansfield Union junior and school board student representative Connor Keefe, don't think the cameras would prevent crimes. "I don't think it would act as a preventative," said the 16-year-old Richmond resident.
But the cameras could be important after something has taken place and that makes them worth having, in his view. "We could use them kind of as a fact teller," Keefe said.
When student leaders brought the proposal to the equivalent of the student Congress at Mount Mansfield Union, the 70-member body approved it with little or no opposition.
Weston, the school principal, believes the cameras could help both during and after an incident. Video footage will go over the Internet to computers that both school officials and police can access in real time if an emergency arises.
In a large high school building, it's possible that surveillance could help pinpoint the location of the threat and allow safe evacuations from other parts of the building, Weston said.
The existing exterior cameras at Mount Mansfield Union did not prevent violent tragedy at the school in 2011. That year a 15-year-old student brought a handgun in a backpack into the school and fatally shot himself in a school bathroom.
Despite the limitations of surveillance, the new cameras have strong support from school board members including Linda Willmott of Jericho, chairwoman of the facilities committee for the Mount Mansfield Union School District Board.
She said she supports "any tools that would help administrators and help keep the kids secure."
Other schools are taking a different approach.
There are no cameras inside or on the exterior of Champlain Valley Union High School and many students like it that way.
Results from a school safety survey in the wake of the Newtown shootings asked parents, students and others to state their opinion on installation of cameras. The results were decidedly mixed, with many students opposed to the idea, according to school Principal Sean McMannon.
"I think students, and this is CVU specific, they feel like this is a very safe place," he said. Many students said they didn't think cameras were necessary and tended to view the security discussion from a healthy "question authority" perspective.
"So when you start talking about cameras and school resource officers, some students see that as compromising their trust with adults and something that right now many of them don't think is needed."
If a serious act of violence occurred in the school, cameras might help solve the crime, McMannon suggested. But he's skeptical that they could help prevent a crime.
Burlington High School takes a different approach. The school uses 32 cameras to monitor activity inside the building and on campus grounds and parking lots. They predate the Connecticut school shootings and have been in use for several years. While no one watches the footage live, the video they provide has been helpful in keeping an eye on a very large campus with many entrances, according to Jeanne Collins, superintendent of Burlington schools.