If a questionable episode takes place on one of your buses, will there be an impartial witness on board?
Who — or what — can you count on to provide an unbiased account of what happened? As recent news shows, video surveillance systems on school buses are essential for getting a clear picture of events.
On June 5 in Grants Pass, Oregon, the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office and paramedics responded to a school bus that was parked on a road, with the elementary student passengers having unloaded.
The Sheriff’s Office reported that some children alleged that the bus driver, a substitute, had made physical contact with them. An investigation began, and students were loaded back onto the bus, with a different driver completing the route.
As part of the investigation, the Sheriff’s Office and the Three Rivers School District reviewed video footage from the bus and conducted interviews. The next day, June 6, Sheriff Dave Daniel issued a press release that cleared the driver and cast blame on students.
“No evidence of criminal wrongdoing or physical contact was found,” the sheriff’s statement said. “In turn, evidence of juveniles acting inappropriately which affected their safety caused the driver to stop the bus within district policy.”
David Valenzuela, superintendent of the Three Rivers School District, told NBC5 that the incident “was very specific to the behavior of a couple students that started the whole situation.” Valenzuela did not tell the news source exactly what those students were doing, but, based on the video footage (my emphasis added), he described their behavior as “fairly extreme and of great concern.”
The incident drew a great deal of attention online. The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office said that “inaccurate accounts … flooded social media,” and the sheriff’s press release included a note of caution to the public to carefully screen social media.
One reader said that she “would not drive a bus that was not equipped with a camera” because of false accusations against drivers.
Undoubtedly, the surveillance system on the school bus was crucial to understanding what happened — and to ultimately clearing the driver of the accusations brought by the students.
When our news story about the Grants Pass incident appeared online, one SBF reader who has more than 30 years of experience in school transportation commented that she “would not drive a bus that was not equipped with a camera” because of what she sees as a trend of students and parents making false accusations against drivers.
This reader wrote in her comment that all of the school buses in her district are equipped with cameras, and the footage is “used extensively to observe reported activities, which in most cases have exonerated our bus driver[s].”
On the other hand, in some cases a bus driver is found to be in the wrong.
“We have also observed adverse behavior by a few of our drivers and have lost some drivers due to their inappropriate actions evidenced by the bus video,” the reader wrote.
The importance of surveillance came up in our contractor roundtable in the July issue. Julie Vendetti-Lomberto of Vendetti Motors in Massachusetts told of how video footage helped exonerate one of her drivers after a student rode his bike in front of the bus and got hit.
“I’m so happy that we have cameras in the majority of our vehicles for situations like this, because they simply protect the driver,” Vendetti-Lomberto said.
Mike Forbord of Schmitty & Sons in Minnesota concurred with her viewpoint.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, the footage is in favor of the driver and helps us easily sort out what happened, and we can clearly make a determination,” Forbord said.
The latest digital video surveillance systems can cover more of the bus, in higher definition, and they offer new tools that make it easier to retrieve footage. The incidents noted above, and many others, make the case for cameras as essential equipment for school buses.
To some extent, the presence of surveillance systems can deter bad behavior on the bus. But when someone crosses the line — a student, a driver, or even a parent — cameras can fill a critical role as unbiased observers.