SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

September 25, 2013

Smile -- school board puts cameras on the buses

PEABODY — Your kids might have the feeling somebody is watching them.

If they ride the Peabody Public School buses, they could be right. Last night, the School Committee voted to instruct the bus company, Salter Transportation, to maintain five cameras on the city’s school buses. The mounts for the devices are already in place, the board was told last night.

The move came along with a vote to spend $14,000 to hire two individuals to monitor activities on school buses. Superintendent Joe Mastrocola informed the board that he had found the money in the existing school budget.

“We are ready to move forward as the School Committee wishes,” he said in a letter.

All this comes after School Committee member Brandi Carpenter raised the issue of bullying on the city’s school buses in March. She warned of children arriving at class “with tears running down their faces. ... There are issues on the bus that the driver can’t take care of.”

Others, including both the superintendent and member Dave McGeney, embraced her suggestion as a “proactive measure.” But they downplayed the idea that bullying is currently a pressing problem on the buses.

Both individuals hired as monitors are to be rotated from bus to bus, business manager Dave Keniston told the members last night, adding, “The contract (with Salter) permits up to five cameras at no additional cost. There are mounts on every bus, and (the cameras) move from bus to bus.”

McGeney initially suggested using cameras in lieu of monitors when first estimates put the cost of a human observer at $10,000 per year.

The school system employs up to 23 buses each day.

Member Ed Charest warned that he doesn’t want to see the camera and the monitor on the same bus.

“I know what you mean,” said member Beverly Griffin-Dunne. But she cautioned that a situation might arise where that would be advantageous. “I don’t want to limit us.”

Charest adjusted his motion to allow school officials flexibility.

Griffin-Dunne further suggested that parents and students should be alerted to the fact that they might be videotaped during the day. But colleague Tom Rossignol suggested that the contract they sign in order to take the school bus already alerts them to that fact.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.

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