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School buses may get spy cams
The new transportation director of the Lee County School District wants multiple cameras installed on every bus in the district's 685-vehicle fleet, and he plans to look for money to buy them.
Jack Shelton said Thursday that he'd like to put three digital cameras on each bus to record voices and actions of students and drivers.
"It's for the safety aspect," said Shelton, who came to Lee in September after having run Alachua County schools' busing system. "We use it as an additional tool for the drivers — anything we can do to help drivers keep their eyes on the road."
The cost? Between $1,000 and $1,500 per bus, which amounts to an estimated $685,000 to $1 million.
The district has 20 to 30 cameras that are circulated around the fleet, Shelton said. He does not know whether they've been used to settle disciplinary disputes in the past, but he said that in other districts, cameras have effectively helped in such cases.
Shelton said he'd like to find the money he needs in the district's budget or possibly pursue grants.
It's not unusual for school districts to seek electronic eyes and ears.
"They've been on for a while, but it would be safe to say in recent years there's been more of a push," said Ryan Gray, senior editor for the trade publication School Transportation News. "The school districts I've talked to do say it's helped with the discipline."
But that's not why mother Renee Bruske wants a camera system in place.
Bruske's daughter was involved in a bus incident on her way home from school Wednesday. She says the driver snatched her daughter Rebecca's $400 digital camera and put it up on the dashboard. The camera toppled over when the bus started moving, and Rebecca went to pick it up, Bruske said. The driver allegedly shoved the student out of the way.
Another mother, Deanna Casalino, said her son recorded much of the incident with his camera phone, which also was confiscated. District officials said Wednesday they took the phone both as evidence and because students aren't allowed to use phones on school property, which includes buses.
District officials are investigating the incident and said that there have been several disciplinary problems on that bus in the past.
Bruske said she thinks cameras should be on the buses. She wants to know what incited the driver's alleged actions and wants to see what happened to her daughter and the camera.
Elsewhere, though, parental viewing has posed legal problems. Gray, the school magazine editor, said judges in some states have ruled that recordings are not part of a student's record, and therefore, parents don't have the right to watch them.
Bus attendant Jackie Harrison isn't so sure cameras are necessary. She said she has been riding the buses for only a few months, but said so far, drivers seem in control and compassionate toward students.
"I can only speak for the ones I rode on. The ones I rode on, they do everything in decent order. They don't hassle the kids. They treat them good," Harrison said.
"I just feel like they're not appreciated."
Bob Rushlow, president of the union that represents Lee school bus drivers, said he'd be willing to discuss the use of more cameras on buses, though he's leery about video being used to discipline drivers.
But he doesn't mind the tables being turned: Rushlow and bus drivers have complained for years that behavioral issues on the buses don't get the support and attention of school administrators.
"If that will help to assist the bus operators to prove we have unruly children on the buses, we'll look at that. We're open-minded to that," Rushlow said.
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