(Provided to the Herald by the Ava R-1 School Board)
In August 2019, the Board of Education for the Ava R-I School District approved the purchase, installation, and operation of safety camera systems on the fleet of school buses used to transport the District’s students.
The Board’s decision enhances the safety of students and drivers while in transport to and from school, and it brings Ava in line with the countless number of school districts across the United States and in Missouri—including every other school district in Ava’s conference, the South Central Association—that have approved measures to equip school buses with cameras.
Ava’s school bus program was designed with the aim of enhancing student safety through the use of interior and stop-arm cameras. Interior-mounted cameras have proven to be an effective behavior management strategy to reduce student misconduct on school buses.
Reports of student misconduct has become a common feature in local and national headlines. Typically, these reports involve issues affecting the safety and well-being of students, including bullying, fighting, substance use, sexual harassment, and sexual activity.
These articles usually also reference a bus driver who, despite her best efforts, was unable to do anything about the misconduct and safety issue due to the difficult position they are put in to not only drive the school bus, but also monitoring the behavior of all the students on the bus. Ava’s implementation of the interior-mounted cameras on school buses will reduce student misconduct overall, enhance student safety, and do so to the benefit of bus drivers.
Ava’s camera system program also includes the installation and operation of stop-arm cameras.
On a single day in 2018, nearly 131,000 school bus drivers in 39 states reported that 95,319 vehicles passed their buses illegally, according to an annual survey conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. That amounts to nearly 17 million violations per year. State legislators across the country have passed bills and legislation allowing, and in some cases requiring, the installation of side-arm cameras to reduce such violations. Ava has taken it upon itself to try to reduce stop-arm violations.
Since its decision in August 2019, the Board has installed the 247 Security stop-arm camera on eleven school buses. The 247 stop-arm camera is specifically designed to identify violators by providing video and still images of the vehicles illegally passing school buses with their stop arms extended.
Since being installed, the 247 Security system has already recorded and identified the perpetrator of at least one stop-arm violation.
Public awareness of stop-arm violations through the use of these technologies will result in fewer overall violations along Ava’s bus routes.
The Board’s adoption of camera systems on school buses has resulted in litigation.
Ava’s students reside along a total of 19 different bus routes. Of those 19 routes, only one is served by the District with a District-owned school bus. The other 18 bus routes are serviced by independent bus route operators who own school buses.
Several of the bus route operators have allowed the District to install and operate the camera systems.
However, a majority of the bus route operators, 11 contractors who service 15 bus routes, have not allowed the District to install or operate these camera systems on their school buses.
These route operators have filed a lawsuit against the District to prevent any cameras from being installed on their school buses. The outcome of the lawsuit is important because it directly affects student safety. In fact, while the lawsuit is pending, only some of Ava’s students will have the benefit of riding to and from school on school buses equipped with the safety cameras. Those students who reside along the plaintiffs’ bus routes will not have the benefit of any safety cameras.
There are several other important things to consider about the lawsuit.
At all times since the Board approved the cameras, the District has maintained that it alone will pay the costs associated with installing and operating them on the plaintiffs’ school buses. The plaintiffs have never been told that they have to pay anything because the District has agreed to cover all the costs and maintain the equipment.
Also, the plaintiffs have taken the position that the way the District plans on operating the camera systems is somehow unfair or unreasonable.
For example, before the lawsuit was filed the plaintiffs demanded that the camera systems be installed with an “on/off” switch so that they could turn the cameras off whenever they wanted.
The bus route operators asked for the same thing when the Board approved the installation of GPS equipment on the buses. In that case, both the District and the operators ultimately agreed that the operators would not use such a switch because it would defeat the purpose of installing the GPS equipment in the first place.
Similarly, the school bus cameras only work to protect students and drivers when they are turned on.
Giving bus drivers the option to decide when the cameras should be turned on or off would also defeat their purpose. The District also, however, rejected the plaintiffs demand for an “on/off” switch here because the cameras will not be set up to continuously record. In fact, the cameras will be set up to only start recording when the bus ignition is turned on and will be set up to stop recording after a brief delay after the ignition is turned off.
The plaintiffs also demanded before they filed the lawsuit that they be allowed to access the video recordings stored on the camera system’s hard drive whenever they wanted, even when they were at their private homes.
Again, the District denied the demand.
Ava R-I School District did, however, agreed to allow the operators to be present at the District any time that there was a need to review the recordings.
In a similar vein, when the plaintiffs complained about the District’s ability to view the cameras in real time, the District agreed to only view recordings on the camera system’s hard drive, not live feeds of the cameras.
These are important issues involving student and driver safety.
The District has gone to great lengths to try to accommodate the plaintiffs’ demands on these issues and to avoid a long, drawn-out lawsuit that will only delay the implementation of student and driver safety camera systems.
Despite the lawsuit, the Board still remains committed to ensuring a safe environment for students and drivers during transport to and from school.
The Board also remains hopeful that, in time, all the buses used by the District to transport its students to and from school will be equipped with camera systems designed specifically to enhance student and driver safety.