Parents in NJ fight for cameras on school buses — and win

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PARSIPPANY, N.J. — The problems began last year when the usual school bus driver for a group of elementary school children in Parsippany, N.J., went on an extended leave.

A substitute driver took over the route, and it didn’t take long for the complaints to begin.

Parents said the driver was speeding around curves and that he didn’t wait for the kids to be seated before taking off.

The children who attend Intervale Elementary School said the driver would stomp on the brakes while the bus was moving to quiet them down. They said it caused them to hit their heads on the seat in front of them.

Parent Brian Wheelock, who has two daughters on the bus, complained to the Parsippany police.

But there was no proof of the allegations against the driver because there was no working camera on the bus.

The driver is employed by the STA school bus company, which said its investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, STA did say the driver went through “retraining” and was transferred to another district, at his request.

However, to prevent a recurrence of those problems, a group of the parents continued to ask the school district to put cameras on the buses. Actually, there are cameras mounted in many of them, but STA said the cameras weren’t recording anything because the school district had not contracted to have working cameras.

The parents said acting superintendent of the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District Dr. Leroy Seitz would not explain why the district didn’t negotiate for working cameras.

The big break for the parents came when Dr. Barbara Sargent was hired as the new superintendent of schools, beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

Parent Gabrielle Bailey, a licensed teacher, said they met with her with a "list of our concerns and suggestions."

Wheelock said Sargent saw the need for cameras. He gave her a copy of two PIX11 reports we’d done about the problems last year.

“She said she watched all those videos," he said.

Then, just last week, the parents learned that the school district has approved cameras on all the contracted school buses for the 2018-19 school year.

“This is huge,” Wheelock said.

Bailey hopes this is just the beginning. She’s been speaking with state legislators, advocating for an increased focus on school bus safety, including a statewide requirement for cameras on the buses.

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