This fall, there will be some new riders on Boston's school buses.
Each of the Boston Public School systems’s 750 school buses will be fit with two audio capable cameras. One will record the road, the other will record the students.
Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization for America’s major urban school districts, said Boston Public Schools aren’t the first to put cameras on their buses.
"We think it makes a great deal of sense, particularly since the only adult on many of these buses the driver himself or herself,” Casserly said.
And that driver is supposed to watching the road, not the kids. The idea is that cameras can help officials investigate and crack down on bullying and other disciplinary incidents, as well as ensure safe driving.
Chicago Public Schools, the country's third largest school system, added cameras to all of their buses last year. Paul Osland is the executive director for transportation in Chicago. He said the cameras have been put to good use.
“We do pull tapes frequently, probably several times each week. We run 1,500 buses so it's not unusual for events to be occurring on busses that cause someone to want to look at the video,” Osland said.
What kind of events? All sorts.
"Student behavior issue, could be an injury that occurred, it could be an allegation that occurred, it could even be us wanting to look and see how many people are riding the bus, is our employee on the bus behaving the way their supposed to be, is the driver doing what their supposed to do?"
While the country’s two largest school systems, New York and Los Angeles, have yet to add cameras to their buses, it’s quickly becoming the industry standard among school systems similar to Boston’s size. San Francisco has added cameras to some buses on a trial basis. Buses in Columbus, Nashville, and Fresno, Cali. all have cameras installed. In Denver they’ve been doing it for seven years.
Some, including the ACLU, have raised concerns about privacy.
"I think having the process and policies as to how you procure the video and protect it and who can view it, those things are all very important,” Osland said.
In general, Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools, said that resistance across the country has been pretty minimal.
"We haven’t had much pushback on it, as a matter of fact I think parents are generally quite pleased to know their children are safe on these busses,” he said.
Of course it all comes at a cost. Boston Public School officials put the price tag at $275,000 a year, which Casserly says is a drop in the bucket compared to the total budget of the Boston school district.
The cost is less than 1 percent of just the transportation budget, and breaks down to about $2 per bus, per day- similar to what it costs in Chicago.
Osland says that in the Windy City, it has been money well spent. And he suspects that by this time next year, Boston officials will feel the same.
Edgar B. Herwick III can be reached at email@example.com.