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CALL 6: School bus cameras not required by law, have limitations

Posted at 5:51 PM, Nov 29, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Public Schools is investigating several incidents involving students being touched inappropriately on school buses, including a 12-year old boy who allegedly exposed himself and made students touch him.

The mother of a 7th grader at Merle Sidener Gifted Academy started a petition after she says her daughter was sexually assaulted by two students on the school bus.

In both incidents, the school bus cameras failed to adequately capture what happened, records show.

The mother of the 7th grader said her daughter’s seat was just out of range of the cameras.

“I believe IPS should provide the parents of IPS students specific information regarding the camera coverage of their child's school bus,” read the petition, which now has 161 supporters. “If the camera on the bus covers the entire bus, that should be made known. If there are areas on the bus that are not captured by the cameras, that should be made know as well.”

The Marion County Prosecutor’s office is likely looking at the bus camera video as potential evidence of a crime.

“This is under investigation by our office for potential criminal charges in the juvenile division,” said Peg McLeish, spokesperson for the Marion County Prosecutor’s office.

IPS would not comment on specific incidents that under investigation, however, IPS Transportation Director Manny Mendez met with Call 6 Investigates to talk about common misconceptions surrounding school bus cameras.

Mendez pointed out that school bus cameras are not required by law, however each of the district’s 387 buses has at least 4 cameras, and some have 6 cameras.

“We still can’t go into every seat,” said Mendez. “It’s just impossible with the constraints of the seats.  We would be sacrificing safety if we went with a lower seat.”

School bus videos are not generally available for public viewing, and there is no state requirement that local districts inform families about video restrictions, according to Indiana Department of Education spokesperson Samantha Hart.

“We do not show video to parents, we do not show it to the media, but our investigators look at it,” said Mendez. 

Mendez said they keep tight control over who can view the videos to protect a student’s privacy.

“The video constitute part of the educational record for all children on the bus,” said Mendez. “For example, unless the identities of other children are blurred/masked, the video is not available for viewing by parents or the public.”

They do provide school bus camera footage to police, prosecutors and the Department of Child Services as part of criminal investigations.

Mendez said the cameras, while they do not capture everything can be a vital tool for keeping students safe and investigating incidents.

“Sometimes we will have a claim that there was a fight and you’re looking for who started the fight,” said Mendez. “We’ll be able to view the footage and see just what went on. “

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School districts may also use school bus camera footage for training bus drivers on effective student management and bus operations, said Hart.

Mendez said they are looking to further improve their bus camera system, including allowing for quickly downloading footage in the field, rather than back at the office.

SCHOOL BUS TIPS:

  • If your child has an incident, take down the date, location and time and contact transportation
  • Remind your child of school bus etiquette including staying in your seat and keeping your hands to yourself
  • Don’t make loud noises that could distract the bus driver