County board challenges FCPS over delay of cameras on school bus stop-arms

A Fairfax County Public Schools bus parked at Vienna Elementary School (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County officials have waited a decade now for public school buses to be outfitted with video cameras, and their patience is wearing thin.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday (Feb. 7) asking Fairfax County Public Schools to explain why it has yet to implement a school bus stop-arm camera program that staff started exploring back in 2013.

The supervisors emphasized the program’s urgency after a year of surging pedestrian fatalities, including some crashes that killed students but didn’t directly involve school buses.

“It’s inconceivable to me that the school board or school administration has ignored this opportunity to make our children safe,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “…You don’t have to be on the roads very long around here to see people passing school buses. Something bad is going to happen if we don’t implement this program.”

FCPS “is working with a vendor and the contract is in review,” a spokesperson told FFXnow, but it had no further comment on the delays or a possible timeline going forward.

Failing to stop when a school bus is loading or unloading students is prohibited in Virginia, which imposes a civil fine of $250 for violations.

After the state gave localities the authority to let their schools install video-monitoring systems in 2011, Foust led the county board in directing staff on Oct. 29, 2013 to work with FCPS on adding cameras, according Chairman Jeff McKay’s board matter.

What followed, however, was a flurry of legal questions requiring more state legislation to clarify that police departments can mail summons to violators and permit vendors access to Department of Motor Vehicles data.

Once those concerns were resolved, FCPS staff notified Foust’s office in January 2020 that a vendor had been selected and contract negotiations were underway — only for COVID-19 to put those talks on hold.

FCPS procurement staff then learned in April 2021 that their contact for the vendor had left the company, leaving them unsure whether the existing offer was still viable.

In December 2021, McKay sent a letter to then-Fairfax County School Board chair Stella Pekarsky proposing that a camera program be in place by summer 2022, but neither the school board nor FCPS responded.

After getting an “informal” update this past December, McKay says he has “lost my patience with the excuses that seem to come up from the working group repeatedly,” which he reported range from the disruptions of the pandemic to questions about the availability of police resources.

“I want to hear exactly why this hasn’t been started and hear exactly what the timeline will look like to implement this,” McKay said, noting that all the school board and community members he’s talked to support the program. “…I don’t know that I’ve ever seen something so widely supported, and yet, so miserably delayed, and it’s time to act on this.”

The board’s request comes as Fairfax County prepares to install speed cameras in school and work zones. The county has yet to announce the sites for its pilot program, but County Executive Bryan Hill said Tuesday that the cameras will be put in place next week.

Hill told the board he will talk to FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid about getting an update on the bus cameras “hopefully” in the next two weeks.

Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, an at-large school board member and the current chair, says the county can expect an update soon.

“FCPS is negotiating with the vendor and working through details with our County partners around budget implications, scope, and implementation responsibility,” she said in a statement to FFXnow. “I look forward to providing an update soon.”

Virginia school systems with bus stop-arm cameras include Falls Church City, Arlington and Newport News.

According to the National Safety Council, school bus-related crashes killed 1,252 people in the U.S. from 2011 to 2020, about 5% of them bus passengers. About 70% of those fatalities were occupants of other vehicles and 16% were pedestrians, though it’s unclear if that includes students walking to or from a bus.

Read more on FFXnow…

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