In the past decade, a generous number of school buses have been furnished with video surveillance cameras to monitor students’ behavior. Over 440,000 school buses shuttle 24 million students per year, demonstrating the need for onboard safety measures, which incidentally is where 25% of school bullying occurs according to the American Public Health Association. Some have argued that more security cameras are needed to protect the students and drivers, as well as catch those drivers who illegally go through bus stop signs while children are crossing. It’s no wonder that the proliferation of bullying combined with recent publicized videos of inappropriate conduct on buses have spurred the need for increased security.
Students are often the victims of cruel attacks by their peers when traveling in a school bus. There have been news stories of children getting pushed out of the bus by each other, even to the point of fracturing skulls and having to be hospitalized as a result. Bullying, however, affects not only students but also the dedicated drivers and monitors.
Bus monitors such as Karen Klein, who was ridiculed and shamelessly taunted by teens on a school bus in upstate New York in June 2012, received a groundswell of sympathy and support from the nation’s communities for what she suffered. The video of the assault, captured by another student on the bus who witnessed the bullying, was posted on YouTube and suddenly went viral. A national campaign in her support raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so she could retire and take a much-needed vacation after experiencing an irreversible horror show of threats and insults inflicted by teens as young as thirteen.
Bullying is not the only threat. School buses are also upping their security and safety devices by installing exterior cameras to record the license plate numbers off of cars who fly right through the stop signs. Montgomery County in Maryland voted to equip 1,264 public school buses with high-end surveillance cameras in March 2012. A survey conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education found that in just one day, 7,000 drivers ignored stopped bus signs and proceeded to drive right past them.
We wanted to hear from an experienced school driver to glean insight from someone who works in this environment on a daily basis. A popular and widely read blog called Tales from the School Bus Driver, written and run by an experienced school bus driver, expressed its views on school bus cameras during an interview with us:
VideoSurveillance.com: What do you think in general about video surveillance cameras in buses?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: I think that surveillance cameras in school buses are a fantastic tool. With the innovation of digital recording, the quality of the camera video and audio has made it easier for bus drivers to pinpoint issues, and address such issues.
VideoSurveillance.com: Do you believe school cameras act as a bullying deterrent? Or help catch bullies?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: It isn't so much a deterrent for bullies as it is a tool to help catch bullies. There have been several incidences where I have student X come up to me and say "Student D hit me." My typical response is to pull the video tape so that I can view the incident in question. Often times, student X hit student D first, and student D was simply retaliating. Of course this means I write a discipline referral for both student X and student D.
VideoSurveillance.com: Have there been instances in your career where you’ve counted on a bus camera to catch students’ poor behavior?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: I can only see so much from my vantage point in the driver’s seat, and often need to pull the video tape to find out what happens when my eyes are on the road.
VideoSurveillance.com: Are the cameras always on during school hours?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: The cameras on our school buses turn on when the bus is started and will typically run about 15 to 30 minutes after the bus is shut off.
VideoSurveillance.com: Are you, as the bus driver, allowed to view video footage or is it reserved for your supervisor/school officials?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: In my district, we are allowed to view video footage, and in fact we must review video footage and cue the video tape up to the incident in question prior to taking the footage over to the school officials. In the case of the digital cameras we have on our buses, we must give an approximate time that the incident happened so that the officials can view the incident in question. We have both old systems with VHS tapes and new digital systems installed.
VideoSurveillance.com: What type of poor behavior/rough activity is most common on a bus?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: Mostly fights that break out between kids. Students hitting one another and kids getting hurt. Occasionally I'll pull the tape if I have a student being disrespectful to me/swearing. The audio on most buses is marginal at best, and often we can’t exactly hear what is said if the student says it in a low enough voice.
VideoSurveillance.com: Can students usually see the cameras, or are they hidden?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: There is a notice posted at the front of every school bus, and the camera is in plain view of the students.
VideoSurveillance.com: In the news, there’s been talk about some school districts in various states using cameras to catch drivers who go through school bus stop signs. What are your thoughts about this – do you think this is a good idea?
Tales from the School Bus Driver: I think this is a fantastic idea. On average we have at least two drivers that blow through our stop signs on a DAILY basis. Given that school is only 180 days that comes out to at least 360 drivers that ignore our safety protocol. That number is conservative.
We appreciate Tales from the School Bus taking the time to speak with us about video surveillance in school buses. Visit http://talesofaschoolbusdriver.blogspot.com/ to read one woman’s daily experiences of being a school bus driver.