School districts review video policy following bus driver charges

By Michael Anderson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, May 23 2014 6:25 p.m. MDT

School districts are looking over their bus surveillance video policies to see if changes need to be made after a former Canyons School District bus driver was charged with 23 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child Thursday.

Michael Anderson, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Sexual abuse charges against a former Canyons School District bus driver are pushing school districts to take a closer look at their policies.

While surveillance cameras are on most school buses, the video is often never looked at because the amount of video footage to review adds up fast.

The Granite School District has more than 170 buses recording five to six hours a day, district spokesman Ben Horsley said.

“There’s very few places on those buses that those cameras can’t see,” Horsley said. “It’s a very helpful system, not only in preventing bullying and other types of things because the cameras are very visible for the kids to see, but also preventing other abuses or circumstances that could violate same school policy and harm children.”

The system records roughly 1,200-1,300 hours every day.

“We only have the capability of reviewing footage when we actually get a complaint about something,” Horsley said.

The Alpine School District is in the middle of a five-year effort to outfit all of its 280 buses with at least four cameras. Currently, no one looks at the video unless there is a specific complaint or problem.

“To think of looking at every piece of videotape on every bus, every day is simply out of the question manpower-wise,” Alpine School District spokesman John Patten said, “but we think we can accomplish that goal of keeping kids safe and everybody on their best behavior by doing random audits.”

Still, with accusations against former Canyons School District driver John Carrell, both school districts are considering options.

“An incident like this unfortunately really causes all of us to look at what we're doing and ask ourselves the question, 'Is this enough in our efforts to keep kids safe?'" Patten said.

For months, Carrell, 61, of Draper, sexually abused a 5-year-old girl with special needs whom he drove to and from school, police say. Carrell was charged Thursday with 23 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child.

The earliest incident of abuse was recorded on Feb. 20. In a video, Carrell is seen taking extra time undoing the young girl's seat belt and tries to block the view of the other children, according to the charges. Later, the girl is heard saying on the video, "You've been pulling my pants."

Similar incidents were recorded in the school parking lot on March 4, March 11, March 13, March 20, March 25, March 27, April 1, April 3, April 8, April 10 and April 22.

Canyons School District spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook said “all laws and policies” were followed when Carrell was hired. She said the cameras are in all buses "in order to keep our kids safe. And it's my understanding that was able to assist in this investigation greatly, and for that we're grateful."

Toomer-Cook said the district is always looking at ways to better protect its students. It currently has cameras in all of its 150 buses, although, like many other districts, video is only reviewed for training or in response to specific complaints.

“Anytime any kind of incident involving students happens within our school district, or other school district, we’re always going to look and see if there’s some way we can beef up or improve our policies,” Horsley said.

There are signs on the bus that clearly state that people are being recorded, both visually and by audio, Horsley said. The cameras provide a great deal of prevention.

“We hope that the kids see that adults who may want to violate policy recognize that, at any given time, we could go back and review the footage,” Horsley said.

One policy change is already on the way at the Alpine School District. It plans to increase the number and frequency of random audits of school bus video feeds.

“We certainly want to strike a balance here with being supportive of our drivers, trusting of our drivers, helping them feel like professionals," Horsley said.

Policies, he said, are generally there to help the district provide discipline, and district officials don’t necessarily prevent things from occurring. He said Carrell’s alleged abuse on board the Canyons School District bus was brazen.

“If somebody wants to do something to harm a child, generally, a policy is not going to stand in their way of doing so,” Horsley said.

Email: manderson@deseretnews.com

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