By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — The School Department is launching a pilot program that will hire two bus monitors to police the ride on school buses, in an effort to prevent bullying and other problems.
The monitors will rotate among the city’s buses.
Superintendent Joe Mastrocola said he doesn’t think there are serious behavioral issues on the buses now but nevertheless endorsed the program, which got unanimous approval from the School Committee last week. He called it “a wise idea to put monitors on periodically.”
School Committee member Brandi Carpenter told her colleagues, “I think we all know how it feels to put our children on a bus. ... Some (parents) will no longer do that because of bullying issues.” There are routes where “an additional hand” is needed, she continued. Her fear is some youngsters will arrive at school “with tears running down their faces.”
The vote followed a report on the daunting cost of putting monitors on every bus — estimated at nearly $10,000 per bus — “which we could not afford,” Carpenter said.
Board member David McGeney suggested another solution: “I’m wondering how much can be accomplished with video ... responding to things after they occur.”
He asked for a report from the bus company, Salter Transportation, on what mounting and maintaining video cameras might cost. The price of such tools, has dropped dramatically, he said.
“I recognize there are some safety issues,” he said.
Speaking later, McGeney elaborated on the vote, saying, “It’s a proactive measure in light of the heightened awareness of bullying.”
In an echo of the superintendent, he added, “I don’t think there’s a big problem.”
Bus drivers cannot be expected to maintain strict discipline during the ride, Carpenter said in an interview, because they have to keep their attention on the road.
“There are issues on the bus that the driver can’t take care of,” she said.
She reported hearing periodically from parents whose kids have had bad experiences on the buses.
At one point, Carpenter said, honor students were assigned to ride the buses as monitors, earning extra credit in the process, but getting them to their vehicles at the end of the ride proved difficult.
“I would love to see a bus monitor on every single bus,” she said.
Carpenter conceded that she can’t know exactly how much bullying is happening on the buses, but she added, “It happens every day. It’s part of life. Kids can be mean.”