After a series of recent School Board decisions, Pottsboro Independent School District will join several other area schools in adding video cameras to its buses. The cameras, many districts say, provide a way to keep students safe and drivers focused.

After a series of recent School Board decisions, Pottsboro Independent School District will join several other area schools in adding video cameras to its buses. The cameras, many districts say, provide a way to keep students safe and drivers focused.

"You have options with cameras of the interior of the buses, you can obviously utilize them that way, as well as you can locate cameras to where you’d even have the option if you chose to view exterior, as far as if students are exiting the bus; you’re doing that for safety reasons," Pottsboro Superintendent Kevin Matthews said. "If vehicles are not stopping at the bus stop signs that are out, you have the option to use cameras that way if you choose, so it’s all tied with one purpose, and that’s student safety."

For Matthews, the reason for putting cameras on school buses is clear.

"When you’re putting cameras on buses, No. 1 you’re looking at safety for students as well as bus drivers," Matthews said. "It’s safety for students, and that can mean several things from discipline of kids to a multitude of different things, but safety is No. 1."

Matthews could not say where the cameras would be placed "for safety and security reasons," but he did say that as the district was ready to install the cameras, which he hopes will arrive in three to six weeks, that principles will communicate with families and let them know ongoing developments with the cameras.

Bells Independent School District has also installed cameras on their buses, but Superintendent Joe Moore said that these cameras are no longer in use.

"We have (used cameras) in the past, but we have monitors on the bus instead," Moore said. "… We just decided to use the monitors instead because that’s what our bus drivers preferred."

Moore said the monitors are placed on particularly crowded buses that have a busy route to help ensure the safety of the district’s children.

"It’s just strictly student discipline and student safety is what the monitors do," he said. "The bus driver can focus 100 percent on driving and the cars around them and the safety issues of the road, rather than having to look in the mirror and continuously deal with any discipline problems and such."

At this time Bells does not have money allocated in the school district’s budget to maintain cameras on their buses, which has a $22,000 price tag for Pottsboro, otherwise that would be an option they would pursue.

"It would be wonderful to have both and that would be a goal for the future, is to have both a monitor and cameras, that would be the ideal thing, and there again you always have to consider the expense of that," Moore said.

Cameras can be a significant expense for a district, but Denison Independent School District Superintendent Henry Scott said the benefits far exceed the costs.

"I don’t see how we got along all of those years without them," Scott said. "The bus drivers are at a tremendous handicap. They are sitting there driving the bus with 70 kids on it in some situations, their back turned to the kids, they have got to concentrate on the road, they’ve got to keep the kids safe. That’s one of the toughest jobs you can have if kids are not cooperating."

For over a decade, DISD buses have been monitored by cameras. The ability to review footage of a bus ride where students or drivers reported a problem has been a powerful tool, said Scott.

"It’s just almost cut out any misinterpretation about the behavior of students," Scott said. "I think because the video is there and the students know it’s there, it creates better behavior. They know we’ve got it recorded, they know we are subject to show it to their parents."

Video cameras are not a perfect solution to all problems aboard a school bus, however. DISD Transportation Director Randy Taylor said the district equips each new bus with four cameras, and older ones have three. But even with all of those lenses, Taylor said they still can’t capture everything that goes on. "Nowadays, buses have higher seat backs, for safety purposes, and if you’ve got little ones sitting in the seats you’re not going to see them. But it is what it is."

Sherman ISD buses have one camera on older models, two cameras on recent acquisitions. Assistant Superintendent Tyson Bennett said the district has undergone several upgrades to the camera systems since they were first installed in 1994.

"It’s good to have cameras," Bennett said. "More than anything, it informs us what’s going on in the bus."

Bennett said safety of students and drivers is the main reason Sherman uses its cameras. He said having a digital record is useful "in any situation, whether it be a student behavior, discipline management situation or any other kind of situation that may occur while the bus is rolling."

The Pottsboro Board of Trustees approved the District’s cameras for 16 buses, plus two more that the district purchased: one at a board of trustees meeting two weeks ago, and the other the board purchased back in May. The district is getting two cameras per bus that can function during both day and night.