Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

New Law Allows Districts to Record Students on Buses Audio Recordings Can Be Used for Discipline, Security

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

New Law Allows Districts to Record Students on Buses Audio Recordings Can Be Used for Discipline, Security

Article excerpt

The days of hearsay "he said, she said" reports on school bus incidents might be over, at least in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation in February allowing the use of audio recording devices on school buses, and many districts are taking advantage of the law. The recordings can be used for "disciplinary and security purposes," the bill states. Video surveillance already was permitted.

Almost a decade after bus company Laidlaw Transit was found to be collecting audio recordings of students from West Mifflin Area School District without their consent, the district now has authorized audio surveillance on buses. Pittsburgh, McKeesport Area, Gateway and Seneca Valley also have adopted policies allowing the taping.

A "high volume of incidents" on buses prompted a need for increased security and monitoring, said Dan Castagna, West Mifflin Area superintendent, who hopes the recordings will be a "deterrent."

"You have lots of students crammed into a small space, so it seems like no matter what we do, we see busing issues arise," Mr. Castagna said. "A lot of times you get a lot of ?he said, she said' and have a hard time getting the whole story. Now we can see what you're doing and hear what you're saying."

Woodland Hills School District was "ahead of the pack," using audio recordings on most of its buses since 2009 based on a letter from the district attorney, said Superintendent Alan Johnson.

"There are no teachers and principals on the bus, just the driver," said Mr. Johnson. "Sometimes they're working with 30 or more students, so that can become very problematic. It's hard to discern how incidents started and who was saying what without the audio recording."

The issue was brought to the forefront in 2006 after Laidlaw Transit, now part of Cincinnati-based First Transit, was found to be collecting audio recordings of students without their consent.

State police, while investigating a driver's complaints that he was forced to operate overcrowded buses, discovered audio recording equipment on vehicles used to transport students in the McKeesport Area and West Mifflin Area school districts.

Stephen A. Zappala Jr., Allegheny County district attorney, chose not to prosecute the bus company, citing no intent to violate the state's Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, which prohibits taping conversations without a party's consent.

Instead, he distributed a letter to area school districts stating the use of audio equipment on school buses would not be considered a "criminal matter" within the county if district school boards adopt a policy allowing audio recording for "disciplinary purposes," parents and students are notified in advance of the policy in a letter and "visible notices" are posted on the buses informing riders that video and audio recordings are taking place. …

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