Special-ed parents press for cameras on SF school buses

Parents of special-education students in the San Francisco Unified School District plan to renew their push for cameras on school buses in light of allegations that a bus driver molested 11-year-old girls in 2004 and 2011.

The district’s Community Advisory Committee for Special Education has long wanted security cameras on the 20-seat yellow school buses that shuttle disabled students, Chairwoman Katy Franklin said.

“Many children who ride those buses are nonverbal, or cognitively impaired, and are unable to communicate things that happen to them,” said Franklin, the mother of a special-needs student.

Although the committee’s request is long-standing, it gained new urgency following the recent arrest of a contract bus driver for First Student Inc., which serves the district.

Roberto Marty was taken off duty last year following a molesting allegation, and the complaint led police to reopen a 2004 investigation into whether Marty abused another girl.

The original investigation did not lead to charges, and Marty was allowed to resume his route after being placed on temporary administrative leave. Last week, he was charged in both cases.

“Why was he allowed to still drive a bus, and why was he still allowed to be alone with students?” Franklin asked. “At a very minimum, they should have installed cameras in the buses he drove, or made sure another adult was always with him.”

Marty’s defense lawyer, Jai Gohel, said his client would have been happy to have a camera on his bus to refute the weak allegations against him.

“If you talk to other bus drivers, kids say all kinds of things,” Gohel said. “Boy, if there had been a videotape, I don’t think we’d be in this situation. I know my client said in 2004, ‘I wish there had been a video camera on that bus.’”

The district will look into whether cameras would be appropriate, spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said, but officials worry that while security footage could provide evidence of wrongdoing, it might not be an effective deterrent.

“If people wanted to do something inappropriate, it’s still possible they could get out of the view of the camera,” she said.

District buses have GPS tracking devices that alert the district if they are late or if they deviate from their routes, Blythe added.

The district’s legal team and transportation director are reviewing its practices and its contract with First Student, which provides bus service to 3,200 regular education and 1,550 special-education students in San Francisco, Blythe said.

First Student also is looking into whether there was room for improvement, said spokeswoman Jen Biddinger, who added that she was not familiar with the details of the case.

“Our core value is the safety and security of our students,” she said.



Case at a glance

– Suspect: Roberto Marty

– Employer: First Student Inc., contract provider of bus services to the San Francisco Unified School District.

– Allegations: The suspect allegedly abused two different female 11-year-old special-needs students, once in 2004 and once in 2011.

– Status: Marty has been charged with two felony counts of committing lewd acts with a child under age 14.

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