R-P school district to install video cameras in school buses

By : 
Chad Smith
Tri-County Record

At its June 18 meeting, the Rushford-Peterson School Board approved the purchase and installation of video cameras in district school buses for the upcoming year. 

Bernard Bus Company will procure the cameras and have them installed and functioning in each bus this summer. The camera system costs around $10,000 but the district will only pay half, thanks to cost-sharing with Bernard Bus Company.

R-P Superintendent Chuck Ehler says the camera system gives them a unique opportunity to get a daily, first-hand look at what goes on in school buses. “We get to see what kinds of things our bus drivers have to deal with,” Ehler said. “If a driver comes to us with a concern, it’s much easier for us to pinpoint that via the cameras. The cameras will put some extra assurance in place for the drivers to say, ‘here are the expectations we have of our bus riders.’ When the bus riders don’t fulfill those expectations and they act out, there’s an accountability factor there. With proof that students weren’t in compliance with expectations.”

The district has contracted with the Telin Transportation Group, which will provide the cameras to Bernard Bus for installation. 

Dave Mohr, Telin’s School Bus Sales Manager for the Transportation Group said that, while there are laws dictating where cameras can’t be installed in a school bus, school districts still have some flexibility regarding where they can put cameras.  “If they’re installed above the seats, for example, they have to be right above the seats, and they can only 18 to 24 inches above the window,” Mohr said. “They can’t go right down the middle of the aisle because students risk hitting their heads. They also can’t be right over a seat back, either. A lot of it depends on the preference of each school system.

“The majority of school districts run a four-channel DVR, which is the part that records the video,” Mohr added. “Some districts will put one camera in each bus, some do two cameras, and there are others that put up to four cameras in. There are some districts that will even go higher than four cameras in each bus.”

Each camera is hard-wired to  start up a minute after each bus driver starts their engine. The drivers don’t actually manipulate the camera in any way. Mohr said the system will record for “X number of days,” depending on how big the route is or how much storage there is in the DVR.

“It’s not just for the safety of each bus driver, but it’s also to help keep the students safe as well,” Ehler said. “The administration won’t have to rely on the students that so-and-so did or didn’t do something.’ We had a camera on one of the buses at the end of the last school year as an experiment. The camera can record data up to 30 days in length.”

Everything that happens on the bus is recorded and stored. Mohr said there is an “incident button” inside each bus. If the driver pushes the incident button, it marks an event on the hard drive. That will make it easier for administration to figure out if something negative happened during a bus route.

“If there’s a complaint after a route, they come back to the school and the supervisor or principal can pull the hard drive off the bus and put it in the docking station at the school. They pick the date and then click on the time frame the incident happened in, say between six and nine on the morning route. Lines will be on the video that were put there when the driver hit the incident button. If they click on the line, it zooms into the incident, which means people don’t have to watch hours of video to get to the incident.”

Driving a school bus can be challenging when students are involved. Ehler said the district wants to support their drivers in making sure the students meet our expectations for behavior on the buses. 

“We already have cameras in just about every place we can put them in the school, [such as]outside of restrooms and locker rooms.” Ehler said,  “Cameras in the buses are just an extension of the system that’s in place to make sure behavior meets up with expectations.”