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District staff, community say janitor monitored by cameras at East High was 'targeted based on his race'

District staff, community say janitor monitored by cameras at East High was 'targeted based on his race'

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Madison School District staff and community members said in a letter Friday the janitor whose work habits were monitored by hidden cameras installed at East High School was “targeted based on his race.”

The letter, addressed to Superintendent Carlton Jenkins as well as the district’s administration and School Board, comes after cameras were found hidden inside smoke detectors at the high school in a room where students with disabilities changed and in a coaches’ office in the boys locker room. The cameras are not known to be used to view students.

The cameras, which were active for about a two-week period in 2019 and removed in June 2020, were installed in violation of district policy in an attempt to catch a janitor suspected of sleeping on the job. Evidence of the cameras was first found in January.

The use of hidden cameras has been used against custodial staff “on numerous occasions,” according to the letter.

Almost 200 district staff and community members signed the letter, which claimed the targeted surveillance of the janitor based on race caused “significant harm” to the janitor and to trust in the district.

“The intentional, secret surveillance of a staff member has resulted in significant harm to that individual as well as the trust of our entire community,” the letter said. “The staff member was targeted based on his race, and the resulting trauma has caused him to experience significant distress.”

The letter called on the district to take several immediate steps to “begin the restorative healing process,” including issuing a formal, public apology and suspending administration staff who placed and approved the use of hidden cameras. A list of long-term moves suggested for the district in the letter include requiring management training and reporting those responsible for the hidden camera use to the police.

“Our families entrust their children into our care each and every day, yet this trust has been damaged and must be repaired,” the letter said. “We also have students at East who have been traumatized by the use of hidden cameras in other incidents. Therefore, it is vital that the district takes clear and decisive action to show them their safety is a priority and their privacy will be protected.”

A district spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Friday night.

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