School bus drivers need to keep their eyes on the road, so many school districts are outfitting their buses with video cameras to keep an eye on the students.
More than three-fourths of schools in Ohio have installed security cameras to promote safety on school buses, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The cameras help school transportation departments crack down on bad behavior.
Sandusky schools, which have nearly 2,100 bus riders, installed digital video recorder systems during the summer to ensure its 25 routes run smoothly.
"During the '06-'07 school year we filed 460 bus incident reports to principals," transportation supervisor Ted Peters said. "The drivers don't have eyes in the back of their heads. There's a lot of stuff going on they can't see because their job is to be focused on the road."
At the front of each bus, the video systems record continuously when the ignition is turned on. The DVR system makes it easier to pull up specific dates and times compared to analog VHS cameras.
"If a parent calls with a problem, we can go back multiple days to see what happened," Peters said. "The information is stored on a hard drive and can be downloaded to a computer or CD/DVD for viewing or storage. We've walked into a lot of principals' offices. It's a real eye opener, especially for a lot of parents."
One incident, Peters said, involved a concerned parent who claimed her child was hit by another child on the bus. After reviewing the video, Peters found the child of the concerned parent was the guilty party in the altercation.
"It happens a lot," he said. "The story (parents are) told is not usually what really happened."
When an incident occurs, the driver can push a button that sets the camera back two minutes and then records an additional two minutes to produce a four-minute clip.
"I take the clip and load it on my flash drive and plug it into my laptop," Peters said. "I've seen severe punching, choking, eating, items thrown at the driver while they were driving, insubordination, threats made to the driver and vehicle, seat jumping, standing, refusing to sit, lying across seats and on the floor."
The DVR systems store up to three weeks worth of video on a single hard drive.
Many districts, including Danbury, Bellevue, Margaretta and Port Clinton, use VHS cameras that can record up to two hours of footage.
"They've worked out for us very well," Port Clinton transportation supervisor Barb Bice said. "We've had them the last five years, and they've become necessary. They're very helpful for everyday incidents that happen."
Danbury superintendent Martin Fanning said the VHS systems are pretty much hit or miss.
"Sometimes they work fine and capture incidents, and sometimes they don't," he said. "People forget to rewind the tapes, or the camera doesn't pick up things because the seats are too high."
Peters said tall seats are a problem for any type of camera.
"We're looking into a grant to get cameras put in the back of the buses," Peters said. "The cameras that are in back direct toward the front of the bus and are able to catch what's going on behind the seats."
To show students what the cameras can pick up, the transportation staff showed elementary students videos of 5th-grade volunteers demonstrating good and bad bus behavior during national bus safety week .
"The kids had fun with it," Peters said, laughing. "I remind them that big brother is watching."
Peters said the Safe Schools/Healthy Schools Initiative funded 23 of the $1,700 systems.
"We purchased a new bus a while back and it already had the DVR installed," he said. "Three buses run on analog (VHS cameras), but all the buses we use for routes have the DVR."
Though a security system can be pricey and a new bus with DVR installed can set a district back more than $60,000, Peters said the benefit of a safe bus ride for drivers and students is more important.
"We would like to think the camera systems will eventually cut down on the number of bus incidents we deal with during the school year," he said.