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Charleston County schools cite security in not revealing number of down security cameras

CCSD Security Cameras 1.jpg

The Vann family has had a busy summer. There's been beach trips, surfing lessons and Charleston RiverDogs games. All that fun though is winding down.

"Matthew is 8th grade and Sophia is going to be a 7th grader,” said mom Saritta Vann.

In just a few days, the brother and sister duo will head back to their Charleston County school.

Just like all parents, safety at school is at the top of Vann’s priority list.

"The fact that Matthew has autism is a different ballgame because I have to be a little bit more proactive," she explained. "Although we live in a very beautiful community, it can change in a second.”

Like it did last May at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary. During recess, a special needs child fell into a retention pond. When staff pulled him out, he was unconscious.

The six-year-old boy later made a full recovery and returned to school.

However, through our investigation, we learned 15 of the school's security cameras weren't working that day. While none were on the playground, district leaders say those 15 cameras had been down since February.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, ABC News 4 requested a list of how many security cameras are in each school in the Charleston County District, how many aren't working, and how long they've been down.

Forty-two days later we received a written response from the district.

“The operation, placement, and functionality of security equipment is highly sensitive information. Disclosing current technical failures could jeopardize CCSD’s ability to adequately secure our facilities and deter criminal activity on our campuses,” the district said.

Sixteen days after that response, the district agreed to an on-camera interview.

Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy says there are 5,000 cameras at CCSD's 80-plus schools.

“I guess it would be like anyone else who has a camera system. Do you want to let folks on the outside know exactly what you have, whether it be the number of cameras, the condition, the functionality?," Borowy said,

Borowy admits they had a backlog of camera issues last spring. Over the summer, he says their repair team was able to catch up. The 15 downed cameras at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary now have been fixed. The district has also added cameras to the school’s playground area.

Currently, Borowy says there are 29 camera work orders district wide. However, that doesn't mean only 29 are down.

“So some of the requests may be more than one camera. If a school calls in and says two of my cameras are down, that is one request,” he explained.

As for CCSD parent Saritta Vann, she believes there should be more transparency.

“When I am talking about my house and my cameras, yes because I am a private citizen, but when it is in a public environment I think it needs to be a little bit more open to discuss the problem with a particular camera,” she said. "Just send an e-mail and say, 'Hey, the cameras are not working.'I just want to make you aware of what is going on in your child's school for your child's safety.'”

Borowy say it's their goal to have all downed cameras fixed within 72 hours. As for parents who have concerns, he wants them to know safety is always a concern and a top priority.

“I would offer that if any parent of Ashley River or any other school is interested in knowing a little bit more about the security at their school they can visit that school. We can make sure they get some personal sense of what is in their school and how it works to give them another level of assurance if they so desire.”

ABC News 4 sent the same FOI request to the Berkeley County School District and Dorchester District 2.

As of June 26, BCSD had two cameras down district wide. BCSD has 4,426 cameras in its 43 schools.

As of June 26, Dorchester District 2 had no cameras down in its 25 schools. DD2 has around 1,500 cameras across its district.

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