Motorists traveling through Prince George’s County next week who whiz past a school bus’s red stop sign will receive a gift in the mail: a $250 ticket.
Nearly 1,300 school buses in the county’s public-school fleet are equipped with cameras to not only protect students, but also ensure drivers obey the law.
Approximately 1,000 buses will be on the road when about 32 percent, or 42,000 students, in Maryland’s second largest public school system are scheduled to return back to the classrooms Thursday, April 8.
“The camera will catch you whether you’re coming from the front or rear of the bus and in either direction,” Rudolph Saunders, transportation director for PGCPS, said outside a bus lot in Upper Marlboro. “This law isn’t new when motorists see the stop-arm come out and the flashing lights, but there are numerous cases where people don’t stop, don’t see it, or whatever the reason may be. We just want drivers to watch out for our children.”
The school system’s COVID-19 guidelines require all students wear masks or face coverings on the bus. Saunders said up to 20 students would be on each bus to maintain social distancing.
According to the school system’s reopening guide, there could be fewer students on a bus that services those in special education, attend early childhood or special centers. No students will sit behind the bus drivers.
The first group of students to return Thursday are special education students, along with pre-kindergarteners through sixth graders students and high school seniors.
Emerson Tiwang, 18, will return back to Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale. Not only will he drive to school, but he also has a half-day schedule as a dual enrollment student taking two classes at Prince George’s Community College.
Among the colleges he received acceptance letters from are Duke, Howard and Hampton universities and the University of Southern California.
“Having missed out on so much on my senior year, I just want a chance to say goodbye before I head out to college,” said Tiwang, who plans to major in computer science and may also study business or finance. “I have been on Zoom for over a year. I just want to be in another setting.”
Students in the seventh through 11th grades will come back April 15.
Students with last names that begin with the letters A through J will be in class Monday and Tuesday. Those with last names that begin with K through Z will see come to school Thursday and Friday.
All students will have virtual learning on Wednesdays.
Students will be on a hybrid schedule and attend school twice a week. The school year is scheduled to end June 15.
If students have trouble adjusting to the two-day hybrid schedule, the school system allows them to return home and continue with virtual learning.
As for the cameras on each school bus, the school system didn’t have to spend any money outfitting the technology thanks to BusPatrol of Lorton, Va. The company will retain a percentage of any tickets issued, along with the county government and police department.
BusPatrol’s website (www.buspatrol.com) highlights stop-arm cameras can monitor up to eight lanes of traffic with exterior cameras to record views from the windshield, door when students enter and exit the bus and the rear.
The company also has contracts with neighboring Montgomery County and Howard County.
Cameras are also installed inside near the bus driver seats to not only maintain safety of the driver, but also “make sure drivers are doing their job,” said Johnnie Walker, bus driver trainer for the Prince George’s school system.
Walker said each driver will use a tablet to conduct safety checks around the bus before and after picking up children. The tablet will scan six “contact points” outside the bus to ensure that part of the bus has been checked.
“I think we are doing a great job, but we’ll do a better job with the technology we received,” he said.
A simple message from Walker to drivers next week when schools open up their doors: “We’re hoping … that when the bus stops [and] the stop-arm comes out, you stop.”