Friday, March 11, 2011

Bus Cameras Not Routinely Checked - District Considering Hiring Staff

Tennessee school buses seem to be a breeding ground for violence. From bruises to broken bones, school bus surveillance cameras should be able to capture it all on tape.

In some instances, that just isn't the case.

Rutherford County school district leaders are now considering hiring a person to perform routine checks of cameras on buses.

A 15-year-old boy was standing bus No. 184 Friday morning when his backpack bumped into another student as the driver made a turn. According to sheriff's officials, the second student got out of his seat and starting assaulting the teen. When the first boy's 16-year-old sister stood up and shouted for him to stop, she, too, was punched in the face, officials said. None of the incident was caught on tape.

"Once we got into the investigation, we realized the camera was not working," said Rutherford County schools spokesman James Evans. "There was a hard drive issue. There was a malfunction with the hard drive on the bus camera, so it did not record anything."

Evans said there is no routine maintenance policy in place to ensure the cameras are working.

"The camera system, the ones we bought, are only a few years old," Evans said. "There have not been a need for a preventative maintenance schedule as of yet."

Another reason school leaders said they don't have a preventative maintenance plan in place is they don't own the buses. They use independent contractors instead.

But there will be some changes. The school district is now considering hiring an IT tech to perform routine checks of the cameras. Bus drivers will also be given an informational flier that will help them determine if the cameras are working properly. The camera hard drive aboard bus 184 has been replaced and is now working.

But Chris Smith said that's a little too late for his children. His daughter has a broken nose and dislocated jaw. His son has a severely bruised cheek.

"It's definitely too late," Smith said. "Then they have to go off eyewitness accounts and, like I said, they can vary."

Smith said another problem is the buses are overcrowded. When you have students standing, he said, that's a danger in itself.

"The bus drivers have been having them stand in the aisle the whole time they are driving," Smith said. "If there was an accident or something like that, that can't be safe."

If a new position is added to maintain the bus cameras, school officials said, it will likely require funding. School leaders will discuss funding the new position during the budget meetings that will begin later this semester.