Dozens of people rallied at the state Capitol in Madison Sunday to protest hidden cameras found in Madison East High School and to draw attention to the deep invasion of privacy it caused for disabled students.
As first reported by Isthmus, school officials at East installed hidden cameras in hollowed out smoke detectors in September 2019 to catch a custodian, who worked nights, sleeping. Isthmus also reported “large amounts of money” being planted in the room to catch the custodian, though officials have not confirmed that claim.
The cameras were placed in two rooms at the school — in a coach’s office in the boys’ locker room, and a different room where disabled students undress and have incontinence pads changed.
District officials found evidence of the cameras in January. Madison police say the cameras were only active during a two week period in 2019, and were not used to view students before being removed in June 2020.
According to police records attained by Isthmus, the district’s building services staff and Director of Labor Relations Heidi Tepp, who is also an attorney, approved and executed the covert plan to install the cameras without approval from anyone on East’s staff.
The footage was accessible only to David Kapp, Assistant Director of Operations at the school’s Building Services facility. Kapp told investigators he only looked at nighttime footage captured by the camera, and stopped checking it after a week without finding evidence of the custodian sleeping.
Anna Hauser, a parent of an East High School student was outspoken at the protest, decried the inherent ableism that allowed the cameras to be placed in the first place.
“My child had his dignity taken away from him,” she said. “Ableism led to a decision that made that, and it is inappropriate. It is a systemic disease that is in our schools, that is in our community.”
Hauser’s 15-year-old son has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy — a disease that make it impossible for him to walk or talk. She said that schools need to start presuming competence in their disabled students, and give them access to all the tools able-bodied students have at their disposal.
School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen, who said she was attending as an individual and not representing the Board, was sympathetic to the protest gathered at the Capitol.
“As an autistic adult, I hear you,” she told the crowd. “What happened should never have happened.”
The police investigation into the district’s actions concluded on Jan. 2, concluding that officers “did not feel that any crime had been committed nor was there any intent to commit a crime,” and that video footage from the hidden cameras no longer exists.