New Surveillance Cameras &
Installation of new surveillance equipment on all county school buses
The “Mystery” of the Bus Camera Tapes
By: Pat Hunter
April 26, 2009
At the June 12, 2008, School Board meeting, just prior to School Board members voting to purchase a large capital expenditure, $48,000 of new state-of-the art video surveillance equipment for each school bus, School Board member Bill Marcus and Transportation Director Gil Luttrell entered into a back and forth discussion about the equipment. Bill Marcus asked Luttrell if he had spoken to school bus owners about the possibility of them putting in new surveillance cameras and Luttrell relayed information back to the School Board.
Gill Luttrell explained to the School Board that under the current school bus contract that the Board of Education would continue to own the surveillance equipment and “restrict their access” to the units. School bus drivers would simply turn in the video card to school officials and the cards would be read in the office because of privacy laws, restricting access to the tapes.
You’re comfortable that they will maintain the equipment and take care of it, asked Bill Marcus.
Luttrell commented that he was looking for a chance to have a strong position about how to manage "short coming of tapes" when the tapes were needed and he felt very comfortable with the equipment that the school was putting in.
He reported that through a grant that was available that year, seven new video surveillance systems would be installed on bus the very next day. And with School Board approval of capital request of $48,000, every school bus would be equipped with the new camera system for the next school year. At that point in time if there is a failure to provide a tape and is driver error or carelessness they’ll be fined, commented Luttrell.
I know you had some problems about not knowing if the video wasn't working or it didn’t have something in it before when you went to get it or retrieve the information that it possibly wasn’t there; is that true, asked School Board Marcus?
That is true, replied Transportation Director Luttrell. He continued to speak, I would say that there was so much “mystery” about whether the system was working properly or as to whether the bus drivers had lost confidence in it and gotten careless, I am certain that all of those things had happened. Will this put us in a much better position, Marcus inquired. I feel much stronger in being able to maintain the availability of the tapes, replied Luttrell.
With that said the School Board approved $48,000 to finish equipping the remainder of the buses for the new school year.
In November 2007, a county bus driver ordered five students off a bus and several others got off on Loudon Ridge Rd., a dangerous, narrow road. The five students purportedly misbehaved and threw items hitting the bus driver. The school bus driver was first suspended and then terminated. According to a News Herald story, "Video surveillance of the bus could not substantiate these claims, as the cassette's tape had previously been spent, and it was no longer recording."
In September 2008, another school bus incident occurred involving a bus driver and the bus driver was charged with DUI and child reckless endangerment, which made national news. The new video surveillance system did not work on that occasion, either!
Then again another school bus incident on April 22, 2009, this time seven students were taken to the hospital and the bus driver was charged with failure to maintain control of the vehicle and not wearing a seat belt. Once more, the new surveillance system did not record the incident!
How can parents have confidence in a school system with a track record of three school bus incidents within a 17-month period? Two of the school bus incidents occurred within 7-months and within the new School Director's, first year on the job!
With children's lives in the care of the school, how many student injuries or bus incidents or lawsuits, will it take before the Loudon County School Board gets involved to address these issues and problems? Its time to call for an investigation.