WASHINGTON (CN) - A Maryland school board installed cameras in school buses with secret microphones to record drivers' conversations, a class claims in court.
Torraine Stubbs, of Pasadena, Md., and two other women who used to or still drive buses for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education filed the complaint on Dec. 15 in circuit court. They are joined by another trio of women who worked as drivers' aides.
They say the board used the secret audio equipment to monitor their conversations and discipline bus drivers, who never consented to being recorded.
"Defendant acted with the express intent and purpose of engaging in surreptitious, pervasive surveillance of its bus drivers and its bus drivers' aides by intercepting and recording their oral communications and conversations without their knowledge and/or consent, invading and intruding upon their privacy," the 55-page complaint states. "Indeed, this was the very purpose of installing the audio-video camera devices."
When the board installed the bus cameras in 2010, drivers thought the cameras were capable only of capturing video inside the buses, according to the complaint.
Stubbs and the other drivers say they received no notice that these cameras also recorded audio when the bus started up and continued to record until 10 or 15 minutes after a driver shut the bus off.
The board intentionally kept the audio recordings under wraps by limiting the number of people who knew the cameras could pick up sound as well as video, the drivers claim.
Stubbs says Board of Education employees would pull the audio tapes, sometimes randomly and sometimes after hearing about an incident on a bus, and use these recordings as evidence in disciplinary proceedings against drivers or their aides.
In Stubbs' case, officials claimed that the tapes showed Stubbs texted while driving her bus on Oct. 28, 2014.
At the driver's disciplinary hearing that November, her supervisor claimed the camera recorded the sound of Stubbs texting inside the bus.
Stubbs insisted that the bus's flashing lights made the offending sound but she was fired. At a later hearing to affirm that decision, it became apparent that Anne Arundel County school busses had been outfitted with audio recording for more than five years, according to the complaint.
Billie Jo Veal says she worked as Stubbs' aide in the 2013-14 school year. The board used similar audio recordings to fire her for not being "attentive to the children" on her bus, according to the complaint.
In support of the charge, the board showed audio footage where Veal failed to say "God bless you" after a child sneezed, , according to the complaint.
The class is bringing 28 counts of violating the Maryland Wiretap Act and seeks $100 in damages per employee for each day the board intercepted their private communications.
They also seek injunction stopping the board from using the hidden microphones any longer.
When contacted by phone Wednesday afternoon, a representative for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education said the office was not aware of the filing.
Court records do not list an attorney representing the board.
Jay Holland, an attorney at Joseph, Greenwald & Laake representing the class, was not immediately available to comment on the story.
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