The Portland Board of Public Education and Portland Police Department have outlined a tentative agreement regarding the use of body cameras by school resource officers that gives custody of videos to the department but spells out restrictions for releasing them.

The proposed memorandum of understanding, which will get a first board reading and be discussed in a workshop Tuesday, is aimed at addressing concerns that arose last year after the department moved to equip all its officers, including the two in Portland Public Schools, with body cameras.

Members of the school board in November expressed concerns about who would have custody of the videos and whether they posed a risk to student privacy, questions the district and department have been working to answer over the last few months.

The resulting proposal puts in place restrictions on releasing video footage, which would be stored on a server owned by the police department, and also stipulates the cameras cannot be operated covertly.

“That’s the agreement we negotiated with the police department, their attorney and our attorney,” Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “I feel comfortable with the release protections that are in this version that student safety is preserved.”

Public comment on the proposal and a board vote is expected after a second reading of the agreement on March 17.

“I’m really happy with the productive work between the Portland Police Department and the superintendent’s office,” school board Chair Roberto Rodriguez said. “They were able to continue their conversations and produce something the superintendent felt comfortable bringing to the board for consideration.”

Rodriguez said the proposed agreement addresses the main concern the board raised last fall, which is whether the videos could easily be shared with third parties in violation of student privacy rights, but he remains unsure about some of the language in the memorandum of understanding.

“In general, I was very clear when this first came up that there is a completely different view of how cameras are used inside of schools compared to how they’re used in the community,” he said. “I think generally I am opposed to the idea of policing children, and as I’ve said before there is a question about whether having officers in our schools is effective.”

While the board had sought last fall to have the district retain custody of the body camera videos due to the privacy concerns, Police Chief Frank Clark said at the time the department should retain them both for a cost savings measure and because they already have in place their own policies for ensuring compliance with federal and state laws around record keeping and records involving juveniles.

Clark did not respond to an email or phone call Monday seeking an interview about the issue.

The draft memorandum to be presented Tuesday would give custody to the department while also requiring that recordings depicting students not be released except to juvenile justice or prosecutorial authorities for review or adjudication of juvenile charges. The release would require written parental consent or have to be ordered through a legal process such as a subpoena or court order.

If videos are released, the department would also ask that they not be distributed further, such as to other juvenile justice authorities, without parental consent or legal process.

The school district would have the ability to request videos of specific incidents through the superintendent, but they would not be “routinely or randomly” viewed by school personnel.

The proposal also would require the officers to notify those involved that they are being recorded and states that they could not operate the cameras covertly.

In addition, Botana said the district is working to formalize an agreement governing relations with school officers and law enforcement that has existed as an attachment to the current memorandum and will be incorporated into district policy going forward.

He said the district is reviewing model policies from other states with the aim of revising and strengthening its own policy by the summer.

Tuesday’s discussion comes a few days before the University of Southern Maine will host a discussion entitled “The End of School Policing?” aimed at addressing broader questions and concerns around police in schools.

The event, which will be held at 4 p.m. at Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Community Education Center on USM’s Portland campus, will feature a talk by Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing.” The talk will be followed by a panel discussion with Rodriguez, Clark and a representative from Maine Youth Justice.

“This is an important political discussion about how education should be provided,” said Brendan McQuade, a professor of criminology at USM and organizer of the discussion. “We’ve kind of sleepwalked into a situation where police in schools is normal. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s good. My hope is the event can expand the parameters of the debate beyond the body camera issue and beyond the budget.”

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