Cameras in Buses, Schools Growing More Common

Article excerpt

Byline: Kristy Kennedy Daily Herald correspondent

Two nightmare scenarios involving school buses occurred in Naperville on the same day.

In one case, a driver made a 13-year-old middle school student who didn't normally ride his bus get off midway through the ride to school. In the second, a driver pulled the bus over and exposed himself to a fifth-grade special education student. Those events, which happened in spring 2009, were among the factors prompting Indian Prairie District 204 to push for installation of cameras and GPS systems on every bus this school year.

"From our perspective, we're looking at safety," said Karla Zozulia, director of support services. "There's a lot of technology out there that we're using to make our students safer."

Similarly, schools throughout the suburbs and the nation increasingly use video surveillance in schools and on buses.

It's a phenomenon many have come to expect in the wake of such events as the Winnetka school shootings in the late 1980s by Laurie Dann, and the 1999 Columbine school killings, said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center.

"We have so decreased the expectation of privacy and increased the expectation of safety," Stephens said. "It's just a sign of the times."

In fact, after Columbine, federal money and other grants spurred schools to add cameras and to give police access to video feeds in emergencies.

"More schools looked at security-related equipment to see if it could supplement their safety programs," said Kenneth Trump, president of the Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security.

Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire plans to continue to install cameras throughout the school as funds become available. They cause little disruption, says David Saxe, assistant principal of operations and program support.

"For most students, the cameras go unnoticed," Saxe said. "They help prevent issues and monitor what is going on in the halls."

Officials at Barrington Unit District 220 agree that cameras provide a degree of safety in the schools. Bus cameras added three years ago have been a deterrent for troublemakers, said Dean of Students and District Safety Coordinator Austin Johnson.

"They give you that extra eye in the sky to see what is going on," he said. "We can see who is poking holes in a seat or throwing things, and we can get a sense of the noise level on the bus." Especially helpful are the audio recordings made by the cameras, allowing school officials to hear what students are saying to each other. "It does help you to get to the complete bottom of a story," Johnson said.

As an added benefit, the cameras promote safer driving by monitoring bus speed and capturing the drivers' actions as well.

Cameras also have been used to solve student disputes, to check out reports of bullying and as evidence in criminal cases. Recently, Johnson said, camera recordings were used to locate a student's missing coat. Johnson could see the girl leaving it in the cafeteria and spotted a teacher picking it up. …