Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Mother questions slow CCTV roll-out in special needs transport

Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye. Photo / Mark MItchell
Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye. Photo / Mark MItchell

The mother of a special needs student who was repeatedly molested by her designated taxi driver is disappointed and frustrated at the slow pace of a CCTV roll-out in Ministry of Education vehicles.

More than a year after Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye vowed to install CCTV cameras in all Ministry of Education special needs vehicles - prompted by the young woman's case - the roll-out has yet to happen.

In September last year, Ms Kaye told the Herald the changes were imminent, and the ministry was also considering GPS tracking of its contracted vehicles.

Cameras for special-ed transport after assault
Taxi driver preyed on vulnerable teenager

However, the cameras are still not in place.

The Ministry of Education says half its contracted fleet will have cameras by the start of the 2017 school year, with the other half being in place by the second term.

The move was prompted by the appeals of the young woman's heartbroken family, who wrote to Ms Kaye and Prime Minister John Key asking for cameras to be a mandatory requirement.

Their request followed the jailing of Dennis James Dredge, who had repeatedly indecently assaulted their daughter, who was 17 at the time, but has the mental age of a 10-year-old. He was tasked with driving her to and from school.

The young woman's mother told the Herald this week it was "extremely frustrating to wait so long for any action to take place", and that she was beginning to question whether the issue was a priority for the Ministry.

"I was unaware that only half the fleet would have cameras and GPS tracking installed by the beginning of the 2017 school year - this is extremely disappointing news," she said.

"While initially being ecstatic about cameras being compulsory in all vehicles, it is frustrating to wait so long for any action to take place."

In correspondence with the ministry earlier this year, she said she had been told that the safe transport of children was a "top priority" for the department.

"With the delays, it makes me wonder if it really is," she said.

"I hate to go there, but I often wonder how many vulnerable students have been exposed to inappropriate behaviour over the past year since the camera/GPS issue was first raised.

"Cameras on school transport will provide safety, not only for the students, but for the drivers - accusations can go both ways. In my view, it's a no-brainer."

Jerome Sheppard, head of education infrastructure service at the ministry, said the ministry was in the middle of a national tendering process for services of special education transport, which would cover the next nine years.

A requirement of the new contracts was that security cameras, GPS monitoring and panic alarms were fitted in all vehicles, he said.

"It is estimated that half of the vehicles used for special education transport will have cameras in place for the start of 2017, with the remainder in place for the start of term 2 2017 under our new contracts," Sheppard said.

"These conditions were not part of existing contracts so we needed to introduce the new requirements into these new contract negotiations.

"This extra monitoring runs alongside the steps we already take to ensure the safety of children with disabilities on school transport. Like drivers of other school buses, drivers of special education buses must be police vetted before they are employed."

Students who were transported to and from school in taxis were already covered by CCTV, as it's already a requirement in law that taxis be equipped with cameras, he said.

There had been no reports to the ministry of incidents of a sexual nature involving the transport of children with disabilities since the Dredge case, Sheppard said.

Dredge was jailed for two years in September 2015 for the indecent assault on the young woman. The court heard he assumed she did not have the capacity to "tell" on him.

But his offending was discovered when the young woman sent a text message to her mother, saying: "Why does the taxi driver like to put his hands down my pants and touch my bottom?"

- NZ Herald

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