, Salem, MA

April 10, 2013

Peabody school buses being watched -- maybe

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Yes, the Peabody schools are watching. And when not, they hope you think they are.

That was the conclusion after School Committee member Dave McGeney suggested that cameras might be useful for keeping order on the city’s school buses. The suggestion came last month after colleague Brandi Carpenter raised concerns about parents taking tearful kids off the buses out of fears of bullying.

Carpenter was interested in placing monitors on the buses to keep watch, but the board seemed daunted by the logistics and the cost of that option. In response, McGeney said, “I’m wondering how much can be accomplished with video.”

At last night’s meeting, he learned that there are already six cameras on the Salter Transportation buses. In a memo to the board, Business Manager Dave Keniston revealed that the cameras are capable of being moved from bus to bus whenever there’s an incident or hints of trouble.

“They are being utilized,” Keniston said last night. “They’re very easy to use.”

“It’s good to know,” McGeney said.

To supply cameras for each of the 23 buses would cost $25,000, according to Keniston’s memo.

Board members downplayed the idea that there have been any serious incidents on the buses.

“We have very safe bus rides for our students,” Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne said.

In the past, Superintendent Joe Mastrocola has said the same thing.

But the committee seemed cheered by the notion that cameras have been rolling, and McGeney even suggested a strategy to multiply the effectiveness of the six by adding “very inexpensive dummy cameras.”

There was an inconclusive discussion over whether the buses already have boxes for mounting cameras, boxes that might leave students guessing over whether there’s a camera within or not.

“It’s the luck of the draw,” Griffin Dunne suggested, “they don’t know where the cameras are. ... I think it’s very good we have this. Everyone sitting on the bus should sit there under the assumption that they’re being filmed.”

It’s a privilege to ride the bus, Griffin Dunne indicated, and those who show a lack of respect to their fellow student can expect to have that privilege withdrawn.

Carpenter, who first raised the issue, did not attend the meeting.