Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

School Bus Surveillance Increases Several School Districts in Maryland, Texas, and Florida Are Putting Cameras on School Buses to Monitor Children's Behavior

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

School Bus Surveillance Increases Several School Districts in Maryland, Texas, and Florida Are Putting Cameras on School Buses to Monitor Children's Behavior

Article excerpt

CHILDREN going back to school this fall on yellow buses in Prince George's County, Maryland, will be getting a quick lesson in surveillance.

For disciplinary and "safety" reasons, the county school system has decided to install black boxes to house surveillance cameras on half of their 1,000 school buses. Children who look at the blinking red lights on each box will not be able to tell whether cameras are on or off.

"We would certainly use the tapes for disciplining; it gives an objective source of information to cut down on incidents, {like} throwing things out the window, getting out of seats, any kind of misbehavior on buses," says Bonnie Jenkinds, a spokeswoman for Prince George's County school system.

"We have had some problems in the past...," she says. "This is an urban-suburban school district right outside of Washington and it really runs the gamut."

School-bus surveillance - which is also occurring in at least two other states, Florida and Texas - raises some questions about violating students' civil rights.

"I think it does kind of smell of Big Brother, but I don't know that it is Big Brother," says Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Maryland. "It's difficult to argue you have the expectation of privacy in a place like a school bus when hundreds of people can see you through the windows.

"It's troubling," he adds. "I don't know if it's illegal, but it's troubling, conditioning the youth of America that there might always be an anonymous person watching them. There is something disturbing about it. We should tread ... lightly."

Mr. Comstock-Gay says his biggest concern is "what happens if there's no crime, do they keep those tapes?" He argues that, unless a crime is committed, the school district should erase tapes of school bus trips.

Surveillance cameras have been used for the past year in Florida's Orange County school system, which includes the city of Orlando, and in the Leander, Texas, school system. …

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