KENNEWICK -- Students riding Kennewick School District buses soon won't have just one camera watching them but as many as four while traveling to and from school or on trips.
The Kennewick School Board agreed recently to spend about $60,000 to outfit almost all of the district's buses with cameras and video recorders. They'll be installed this summer and be ready for the start of school in the fall.
Bullying on buses is among the top concerns of students according to a district report, and board members have said the cameras are one measure to combat the problem.
"Hopefully it will curtail some of the negative interaction between kids," said Ethan Schwebke, the district's transportation manager.
Students say the school bus is the place they feel the least safe when it comes to school, according to the district's inaugural school safety survey given to fifth- and seventh-graders, freshmen and juniors last spring.
Only 84 percent of surveyed students said they felt safe on the bus. That compares to the 90 percent or more of students who said they felt safe in school, on playgrounds, in classrooms and in lunchrooms.
Elementary students felt particularly at risk on the bus, with only 79 percent saying they felt safe.
Alexandria Miskho, a Kamiakin High School senior and the board's student representative, told the board recently that students at Desert Hills Middle School told her they felt uncomfortable on the bus because of bullying that sometimes even was directed at the bus drivers.
Schwebke said he isn't aware of any bus drivers being targeted by students but that there can be behavioral problems that drivers don't hear or pick up on while picking up or dropping off students.
"(The driver's) primary focus is the safety in front of them," he said.
Most of Kennewick's school buses already have video cameras and recorders, as do many in Pasco and Richland. The new systems, which will cost about $2,000 per bus, are more complex, with two cameras at the front, one in the middle and another at the rear.
Schwebke said the multiple cameras provide more opportunity to catch something clearly if there's an incident, and all footage ends up on a DVD or VHS tape. Some of the buses will be retrofitted with the new systems while new buses ordered for the district's fleet will come equipped with them.
Schwebke said the buses that already have video cameras don't necessarily have fewer behavioral problems. However, it makes it easier to identify what led to an incident or document a history of bullying when a problem arises.
And the board has discussed taking other steps to make sure students are respectful and safe on the school buses, including an education campaign.