Starting next school year, all passengers on a Granite School District bus will be under a watchful eye.
Granite School District's Board voted on June 12 to purchase $58,000 worth of cameras, completing the district's fleet of roughly 175 spy-ready school buses.
Tom Given, Granite director of transportation, described each bus as having at least three cameras: One for the front, middle and back. Newer camera systems also will watch the stairwell.
The installations will be completed by the end of summer, Given said.
The district has had cameras in its school buses for more than a decade. Next school year, though, will be the first time Utah's largest school district will have cameras throughout its entire bus system, which carries more than 12,000 students a day.
The cameras are used to solve disputes that arise when studentsor bus driversmisbehave.
"Stories do fly," Given said. The cameras, though, work as a "marvelous protection." He said they create support for the driver and correction for the children.
Shiela Longhurst has worked on school buses for 13 years, first as a bus assistant for special-needs students, and now as a driver.
"I like it because it protects me, too, not just the kids," Longhurst said. Though she added that "some drivers don't like to feel like they're being watched all the time."
The camera footage is viewed on an as-needed basis, which turns out, is fairly regularly.
Over the course of a year, the footage can be viewed more than 7,000 times, according to Ben Horsley, Granite's director of communication.
Camera footage was referenced last year when a special-needs student fell out of the back of a moving bus on a freeway, as well as in a variety of other situations including student bullying and driver safety, Horsley said.
Parent Teacher Association Director Linda Hansen said she feels the cameras are necessary, but she wishes they weren't. Hansen has two special-needs students who have experienced pushing, swearing and name-calling on the bus.
"Kids shouldn't have to go through those kinds of things on the bus," Hansen said. She said she hopes letting the students know that cameras are there will help deter that kind of behavior.
Sarah Timpson described her daughter's first experience on the bus in seventh grade as a "harsh slap" on the face.
"It was a shock" for her daughter to see racial bullying and hear a lot of language on the school bus, Timpson said.
Timpson wasn't aware of the cameras in the buses until now, but her daughter was. The cameras are in plain sight on the bus, and the drivers inform the students they're being filmed at the start of the school year.
There's also a warning sign posted near the cameras notifying riders they are being recorded.
Though Timpson thinks the cameras are "probably a good idea," she said it would have been nice to know about them.
Tonya Aston, a parent to three at Cypress High and Brockbank Junior High, also wasn't aware the buses had cameras.
"I don't think it ever hurts to let parents know," Aston said.
The district doesn't formally tell the parents about the cameras, but Horsley said he hasn't been able to locate any complaints from parents about them.
"Most kids realize at any point they're being filmed," he said.
Timpson hopes the cameras work to improve student behavior.
"Maybe with these cameras in place, hopefully it'll curb some of the language and some of the bullying that naturally happens when kids feel like they're alone," Timpson said.
Cameras by the numbers
Granite School District
School buses • 175
School buses with cameras • 175 (by the end of the summer)
Number of years • more than 12
Alpine School District
School buses • 266
School buses with cameras • 4
Numbers of years • 2
Davis School District
School buses • 256
School buses with cameras • 206
Number of years • more than 15
Jordan School District
School buses • 210
School buses with cameras • 210
Number of years • 12
Weber School District
School buses • 181
School buses with cameras • 66
Number of years • 7