BRICK – The issue of school bus safety was brought up during the November 14 Board of Education meeting after an October 28 incident when a township student was punched and choked by other students on a school bus.
During public comment, Todd Lansing said his son was on the bus when the attack occurred.
“The kids were rowdy…yelling, fighting,” Lansing said. “Why didn’t the bus driver do something?” he asked.
“They should pull over – a child was being choked on the bus,” he said. “The adult is there to adult, and always be the adult, and treat every child as if its theirs, because that’s what I expect when I put them on the bus,” he said. “We should all expect that.”
He said he did not want to get any particular bus driver in trouble, but asked if bus drivers are trained to pull over when kids are yelling and fighting.
“They’re the parent when we’re not there,” Lansing said. “That’s their job, to get my kids, your kids, our kids, from point A to point B safely, unharmed, the way I sent them to you.”
He asked the administration if the bus cameras are operational.
Acting Superintendent of Schools Sean Cranston said that out of the 107 district buses, 42 have cameras, and 30 additional cameras have been delivered and should be installed by early 2020,
Those cameras were delivered during the summer and were paid for with a grant, but the school district does not have the manpower to install them, Cranston said.
“We’re looking for a company to do that,” he said.
Once they’re installed, 70 percent of the fleet would be equipped with working cameras, he added.
During the next three years, 34 school buses would be phased out, and they would be replaced with buses that have working cameras. Afterwards, 99 to 100 percent of the buses would have cameras, Cranston said.
Lansing said that if buses had inside and outside cameras they could record the license plates of cars that illegally pass stopped school buses. He asked if the fines collected could help pay for the cameras.
Cranston said the fines collected go to the police department, not back to the schools to pay for cameras.
Board President Stephanie Wohlrab said the administration agrees that bus cameras are important, and they are seeking “avenues and resources” that would pay for additional cameras.
“We’re getting cut another $4.2 million this year,” she said, referring to a cumulative $24 million cut in state aid over seven years. “There are safety issues in the school buildings where we have 8,500 [students] that we are responsible for, too,” Wohlrab said.
Each bus camera costs about $1,000, plus $300 to install on each of the 107 buses, she said. And that doesn’t even include cameras for the outside of buses.
“We need the cameras,” Lansing said. “What do we need to do? I don’t care if some of the buses are going to be changing in the next couple of years…this is 2019. Find the money, make it work,” he said.
Two years ago the district funded a safety audit in anticipation of a safety referendum that would have funded safety improvements to the schools.
The experts who conducted the safety audit said, that with limited resources, the district’s priority should be a focus on hardening the buildings, Wohlrab said.
“They wanted vestibules, cameras in the buildings, lockdown systems,” and other safety enhancements, she said.
The November 2018 safety referendum failed by 23 votes.
She told JerseyShoreOnline.com that her son was pinned to the floor of the school bus while the kids around him chanted “fight, fight, fight” and one took a video of the incident. No one tried to help him, she said. The ordeal finally came to an end when the bus came up to her son’s bus stop and he ran off the bus crying.
She has created a petition on Change.org to make it mandatory for school buses to have cameras. Search “Brick Township” on Change.org to find this petition.
The next Board of Education meeting will be on Thursday Dec. 12, which will be held at Brick High School.
-Kimberly Bosco and Chris Lundy contributed to this story.