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School Welcomes Big Brother

Some people fight for camera time, but not at West Hills High School near San Diego.

CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith reports that budget cuts have forced the school to replace human security staff with cameras that keep an unblinking eye on students' every move. So far, there aren't many complaints.

It's like something out of a spy movie - or maybe a shopping center: From the moment someone drives up to West Hills High School in Santee, Calif., they're being watched. Wherever they walk, whomever they're with, whatever they do, the eye in the sky takes it all in. And a man behind the curtain watches.

There is a lot to watch: the staff here is responsible for more than 2,300 students on an 80-acre, unfenced campus.

Teachers don't have to be inside to see what's going on with these cameras. They can actually monitor everything from little handheld PCs. And when the system is up and running, they can pull up a student's attendance records, grading history and class schedule so you can see exactly where that kid is supposed to be. The whole idea here is that what students give up in privacy, they get back in security.

"We don't really think these cameras are going to keep kids from bringing weapons on campus," says Joe Schramm, the safe school coordinator and the man behind the monitors.

"You can't see inside of backpacks. You really can't stop something like that with a camera. But what we can do is create interpersonal relationships with the kids so they'll let us know if something like that is going to happen,"

The students don't seem to mind the lack of privacy.

"It makes me feel better about being in school, that somebody's looking out for me even if they're not physically there. It's unfortunate but it's true. It's kind of a necessary circumstance now," says a student by the name of Amber.

Necessary - maybe - because of something that happened right down the street last year.

In March 2001, a student at neighboring Santana High School brought a gun to school and used it to kill two classmates and injure more than a dozen others. Santana is just a few miles away.

"When it happens a mile or two down the street, it made me feel like pretty much anything could happen anywhere," says Brian, another student.

So instead of resenting the all-seeing eye, the kids here have learned to accept it.

"I think that most people don't notice it anymore, or they take it for granted, or they realize that it's not as bad as they thought it would be," says one girl.

As for Schramm, he does not see himself as Big Brother.

"It would be no different than if I sat up there at lunch time with a pair of binoculars. And that's not Big Brother. That's our duty and our obligation to students and their parents, to keep them safe. And we're using every means we can. It's just a more technological way to do it," he says.

All of the equipment is donated, and the school will eventually add six more cameras for a total of eight. No major crimes have been caught on camera yet, but the principal says there's been a lot less vandalism since the cameras went up.