Education

Wake County installing cameras inside all school buses

Robert Carver, with Fortress Mobile, installs a wifi/GPS antenna on a Wake County school bus in Raleigh on March 26, 2015. Four cameras were mounted inside the bus for monitoring everything from the riders to the speed of the bus to the braking.
Robert Carver, with Fortress Mobile, installs a wifi/GPS antenna on a Wake County school bus in Raleigh on March 26, 2015. Four cameras were mounted inside the bus for monitoring everything from the riders to the speed of the bus to the braking. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Every Wake County school bus will have on-board surveillance cameras installed by the end of the school year to try to reduce problems caused by misbehaving students.

Wake already has 85 camera-equipped buses on routes where discipline problems have been reported, but the school system will take $1.3 million from its reserves to install cameras on the rest of its bus fleet. School officials say their goal is to get the cameras installed in the remaining 770 buses within the next few months.

School officials say the cameras are needed for both the safety of the drivers and students.

“When you unfortunately have kids throwing stuff at bus drivers and kicking the backs of their seats and doing other things that would distract a bus driver, we would consider that a very, very significant safety concern,” said David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer. “While a camera system won’t just make student discipline issues go away on the yellow buses, it will reduce the frequency of them.”

Student discipline and low pay are among the issues that Wake’s school bus drivers have complained about over the years. More than 10 percent of Wake’s 825 drivers didn’t show up for work on the afternoon of Oct. 30 – with some calling in sick because of a pay dispute – resulting in delays delivering some students home from class.

School officials met with drivers Tuesday afternoon to hear their concerns. Later that evening, the school board reallocated additional money toward the camera installation. But Neter said the decision to install the cameras was made before last month’s sick-out.

Neter said school officials have been looking into installing cameras on buses for years, but the question had been whether money would be available.

Wake began piloting the use of cameras on buses last spring. Buses are equipped with multiple cameras that are continuously recording. Drivers can hit a button to mark portions of the video for review in cases such as a fight in progress.

Neter said the cameras provide video evidence that eliminates the “he-said, she-said” arguments that occur when a bus driver or student alleges misbehavior and the other party denies it happened.

Durham finished adding cameras to all 300 of its school buses last school year. The cameras have helped validate reports of incidents and appears to have cut down on the number of students who are repeat offenders, according to Chrissy Deal, a Durham Public Schools spokeswoman.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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