Thursday, February 01, 2007

Video Recordings Help With Discipline for School Districts

Recordings help with discipline, but systems can be pricey for school districts

Kandis Carper Staff writerJanuary 27, 2007

When the mother of a West Valley middle school student was told her child had taken a nail file to a school bus cushion, she assured the district that her child wouldn't do anything like that.
"When we showed her the tape, she was a little bit shocked," said Doug Matson, West Valley deputy superintendent. "The cameras show that the behavior happened."

In recent years there has been a sharp increase in violence on school buses. Nationally, news about students stabbing one another, shooting pellet guns, fighting and sexually molesting other students on buses is becoming increasingly common, reports the American Public Health Association.

To prevent this behavior, many school districts are installing digital video monitoring and bus tracking systems.

Washington state doesn't include cameras or tracking systems as standard equipment for school buses; school districts pay for any equipment they add to their vehicles.
The six new buses West Valley is purchasing this year will come equipped with camera systems, bringing to 36 the district's total of camera-equipped buses.
"The cameras have helped take away the bus-driver-versus-the-student's account of an incident," Matson said.

The East Valley School District bought three new buses this year and three last year. The new buses will share a handful of cameras that are rotated as needed on its 43 buses.
"We would love to put a camera on every bus," said Richard Cook, manager of fiscal affairs.
"Some buses have systems built in. The driver pops in a VCR tape and hits record. The camera flashes on students and then on the driver," Cook said.

"We've had some problems on a route for a few days, even though the kids knew there was a camera on the bus, but we were able to identify the troublemakers and take care of it," Cook said.

Paul Vigil, East Valley transportation supervisor, said conventional school buses cost about $76,000, and larger transit-style buses are about $92,000. Adding cameras and recording systems costs between $1,200 and $2,500 per bus, he said.

Transportation safety involves not only preventing violence and vandalism, but also preventing injuries caused by weather and road conditions. Districts sometimes have to make tough choices about which they're going to spend their money on.

Vigil said the money they have for options goes for sanders; insta-chains, an ice and snow chain system operated from inside the bus; tinted windows; and more comfortable drivers' seats. The district's biggest concern, he said, is getting around rural areas in the winter.

West Valley also has weather-related safety concerns that must be addressed when buses are outfitted. The district paid $180 for a strobe light for a bus that frequently travels through fog on the prairie route.

Central Valley School District added seven new buses to its fleet this month, bringing its total to 87 buses.

"All the buses have sanders, but we didn't equip them with cameras or GPS systems. We can add those items at a later time if we need to," said Melanie Rose, spokeswoman for the district.