Gov. Tom Corbett on Feb. 4 signed legislation that would allow school districts to use audio recordings with surveillance cameras inside school buses. The bill will become law 60 days from that date.
The bill reportedly passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support. Sponsored by Sen. Richard Alloway II, Senate Bill 57 exempts school districts from the state’s wiretapping laws if they choose to adopt this practice upon approval from the local school board. The measure allows — not mandates — the use of audio recordings on buses aimed to deter bad behavior and protect the rights of students.
Before utilizing the audio, a school board would have to adopt a policy to allow the practice, and notify students and parents impacted by the policy. They also would have to post a conspicuous notice on the school bus or school vehicle that students may be audiotaped. A school bus or vehicle used for non-school-related purposes would be not be exempt from the wiretapping laws.
Alloway said in a news release that current state law allows the use of video recording equipment in school buses and school vehicles, but audio recordings may violate the state’s wiretapping laws.
“Parents and school district personnel share a common goal of making sure students get to and from school safely without the threat of violence, bullying and other bad behavior,” he said. “The use of video recording devices on school buses has served as an effective deterrent to physical violence. Extending this protection by allowing audio recording would be a valuable tool in resolving disputes and preventing verbal bullying.”
Aside from Alloway, other legislators stated that they aren’t concerned about any students losing their rights or self-expression as a result of the new law, because the audio recordings would be there to protect students who fall victim to other students. Some said audio would help in some situations, such as bullying, to hear what students are saying to each other. Others said audio also could fill in gaps in situations where someone on the bus can’t be seen on camera due to the camera’s placement, but they can be heard.