As schools and their surroundings increasingly become targets for violence, the need to ensure safety and accountability has never been greater. The use of video surveillance is spreading because footage not only provides crucial data after serious incidents but can also aid in preventing tragedy in the first place.
Take the tragic death in September of a nonverbal teen with autism who was left behind in a hot school bus in Southern California. Consider the bullying and fighting that too often breaks out on the bus, sometimes even involving parents.
Without cameras, such incidents cannot be reviewed or resolved because of the “he said–she said,” commented student transporters who are utilizing the latest video technology.
According to STN’s most recent readers survey on bus surveillance trends and challenges, most transportation officials implement video to monitor student behavior (82 percent). Other reasons cited by respondents include monitoring driver behavior, incident management and crash investigation reporting.
Jay Bruner, director of transportation services for Dothan City Schools in Alabama, told STN that many drivers have gotten into the habit of viewing footage every two weeks just to check up on students. The district is located near Midland City, where Dale County school bus driver Charles Poland was shot and killed on his school bus last year.
“(Drivers) love the video because a school bus is 40 feet long, and it’s hard to know all the time what’s taking place. I’m a former coach, and you learn a lot just by watching film,” he said, noting that drivers will flag footage to draw his attention to an incident. The Mototrax system linked with the Angeltrax cameras notifies him instantly.
“One thing that makes our camera system unique is the live-view capability, which means I can monitor the inside of my school buses in real-time anywhere in the U.S. Bus drivers are very appreciative of it because they never feel like they’re out on the road by themselves,” continued Bruner.
He added that school principals also have access to the live feed so they can monitor their specific buses. Though state specs require four cameras per bus, Bruner said the district went with eight because extra “eyes” mean drivers can focus more on the road.
“You can’t put a price tag on safety for your kids in your district,” he stressed. “Discipline has really been curtailed … and it’s definitely helped with safety and transparency. We live in a society in which accountability really needs to be there.”
This large investment would not have been possible without administrative support, as well as school board approval, noted Bruner. Likewise, Transportation Supervisor Paul Vigil of Clover Park School District in Washington state, also said this support is “crucial.” While the district has had onboard video since 2001, it upgraded to 247Security systems four years ago.
Vigil said the most common incidents reported on his 138 buses are students fighting or throwing objects, as well as angry parents at the door “giving drivers a hard time.”
GIS specialist Brent West, who works with transportation at Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, told STN video was implemented in 2013 to enhance student discipline. Currently, the department operates about 1,000 buses with 247Security DVRs and cameras. Anytime a bus driver hits the event marker, the five-minute video clips are downloaded via Wi-Fi to a server at each compound.
“Video allows our compound staff, school staff and security to get to the bottom of an issue by seeing and hearing exactly what happened leading up to, during and after an incident occurs,” said West.
“Of course video doesn’t lie,” added Orville Burks, head mechanic at Bartlesville Public Schools in Oklahoma, who said he appreciates the wireless capability of Seon Trooper camera systems.
“It’s proven itself handy many times. We have a system set up on the district’s network where I can save a video clip, place it in a folder, and they (principals) have access to it on their site. After they view it I go back in there and remove it. We don’t want anyone outside to watch it,” he explained, noting that drivers are allowed, but parents must get permission through the courts.
Robert Sutton, transportation director at Augusta Unified School District 402 in Kansas, operates a smaller fleet of 14 buses, but said the challenges loom just as large.
“Around the country there are a lot of irate parents who step into that bus well. So far we’ve only had one incident. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera there, but we did have audio, so we were able to play that for the superintendent,” shared Sutton. “The big thing now with students is using e-cigarettes. And you always have bullying.”
His department has relied on Seon cameras for eight years, upgrading the systems as the budget allows. “The technology has gotten a lot better. We use a flash drive … and a smaller device that you can pull out and bring in to review footage. There is a much clearer picture and a lot better sound,” he continued.
While student discipline drove the implementation, Sutton said video has made his job easier in other, unexpected ways by recording drivers doing pre- and post-trip inspections, verifying tips about drug use or bullying and pinpointing who is at fault in a bus crash.
Additionally, the department uses video footage in driver training to teach operators what to do in certain scenarios. “We had a bus fire and we showed the evacuation — what was done right and what was not. So we can use video to educate others,” said Sutton.
Vigil pointed out that when principals have access to bus video showing passenger misbehavior, they gain a better understanding of what’s going on with their students. This awareness then enables principals to develop more effective policies and programs school-wide that deter bullying and other misconduct, he said.
“When principals take advantage of video, we do see improvement in the behavior at those schools because those principals are backing up transportation. They are the second set of eyes on the bus now,” continued Vigil. “We’re seeing a decrease in behavior problems at those schools.”