The four Jefferson County school districts have different approaches to maintaining order on school buses as they travel their respective routes to and from school during the school year.
The Watson Chapel School Board voted Monday to approve the purchase of replacement surveillance cameras for the 10 school buses in its fleet.
Each system will come with one camera to record traffic outside of the bus and students as they enter and exit the bus and two cameras to keep track of activity within the bus.
The board accepted the low bid from Seon System Sales of Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, at a price of $12,960 for 10 three-camera surveillance systems plus GPS to be installed on the 10 buses.
“These cameras are important because kids have to be monitored everywhere,” said district Superintendent Danny Hazelwood. “A lot of incidents that occur on the bus are like the ones that occur in the classroom, such as conflict among students or moving from seat to seat which they aren’t supposed to do.”
Hazelwood said that the incidents recorded by the cameras make it much easier to resolve disciplinary issues by being able to compare what is on tape to what is being said.
“The bus driver can’t see what’s happening on the bus and drive at the same time so the cameras function as another set of eyes,” Hazelwood said. “The technology has advanced a great deal and the quality of the picture has improved dramatically. It’s expensive but we do what we have to do to maintain order and this is one of the ways that we do it.”
The Pine Bluff School District maintains security cameras on all 40 buses in its fleet according to interim Superintendent Linda Watson.
“We do use them and I believe that they are on all of the buses,” Watson said. “They are used both as a way to discourage disciplinary problems and to determine who the culprits are when we do have incidents on buses. The district replaced all of the systems this summer and they come with a three year replacement warranty.”
While the system doesn’t have cameras to record what is happening outside, Watson said that she will have transportation director Lester Johnson inquire whether any grant money for the purchase of outside cameras is available and if so to apply for it.
Johnson said that each of the 40 systems were priced at $1,500 for a total of $60,000.
Dollarway School District Superintendent Frank Anthony said that his district does not currently use surveillance cameras on its buses.
“They did have them several years back but they had problems with thefts of the cameras as well as damage to them,” Anthony said. “But our disciplinary problems on buses seem to be diminishing compared to other locales I have been in over my 45 years of experience. I want to salute my kids for their good behavior on the buses.”
The White Hall School District does not use bus video surveillance systems, according to Superintendent Larry Smith.
“I wish we had the finances to support buying them,” Smith said. “Of course there is both good and bad to using the cameras. Depending upon what type of roads you travel on you can have problems because the cameras are pretty sensitive and can break easily. On some of the cameras the video quality is such that after the fourth or fifth row of seats it is hard to see and there is rarely any audio.”
Smith said that he recognizes the usefulness of surveillance cameras and provided an example from when he was a school principal.
“I had a mother who was mad at me because her son had been suspended for disciplinary issues and she didn’t believe he could have done what we said that he had done,” Smith said. “She came up to the school again one day and I told her that before she said anything, to take home and watch a videotape I handed to her. She called me back later and just asked how long he was suspended for this time.”
Smith said that district personnel did spend a fair amount of time investigating complaints from students about school bus incidents and said that the cameras would be helpful.
“We would like to be able to have the camera systems but it is a cost issue for us,” Smith said. “While there are some grants available for the cameras, they tend to be for districts that have longer bus routes than ours. Most of our routes are 45 minutes or less. Free and reduced lunch students factor into grant availability as well and we don’t have a lot of students who qualify for it.”