Children are not 'precious cargo'

Photo by James Kraemer, 2safeschools.org. May be used for public service use in flyers, the press and noncommercial educational use. May not be sold without permission.
Photo by James Kraemer, 2safeschools.org. May be used for public service use in flyers, the press and noncommercial educational use. May not be sold without permission from the author. Contact Address: [email protected].

Topic: School Bus Safety

"It's frustrating," said a Knox County school bus driver Donna McMahan, who also maintains a Web site promoting school bus safety. "You write them up but the principals take weeks and weeks to do anything, or they don't do anything at all. Your hands are tied."

~ Quote from: "Knox County driver hopes incident promotes school bus safety," By Lola Alapo, Knoxville News Sentinel

2safeschools Note: This article by James Kraemer (2safeschools.org) presents school bus drivers issues that too often contribute to frustration on the job and excessive attrition. None of the information in this article should be considered a substitute for legal or medical professional care or any of the services provided from those professions.

School bus drivers hopeful public awareness helps promote school bus safety

Winter 2008/2009 (Updated Jan 02, 2009)
By James Kraemer, 2safeschools.org

The Nation - It is well known, at least within the school bus industry, that a chronic school bus driver shortage has existed for at least a decade. This shortage of qualified school bus drivers persists and regardless of economic conditions and varying workforce availability within many of our nation's communities.

Some experts’ claim it is the stress of dealing with, "certain students," that makes bus drivers leave the profession. However, school bus drivers claim it is the stress of dealing with certain students and with certain adults day-in and day-out and with no relief in sight. School bus drivers everyday deal with threats to the safety of the children they transport, as well as threats to their own safety from some children and also from some parents.

One issue that stands out but is rarely given much study in the press concerns a chronic lack of effective school bus driver support at problem school bus transportation facilities.

Public neglect for the safety of children riding on the school buses and the decent treatment of their school bus drivers would be unacceptable were it not the state doing it.

“A car full of screaming kids can be a handful and extremely dangerous. Imagine a busload. But bus drivers do it everyday.” (~ School Bus Safety: Rowdy Kids, Story by Kate Krivanek, 11/20/2008, WVNS-TV, WV - West Virginia Media)

Poor or no support from schools is too often a reminder to our nation's school bus drivers of what can be considered indifference from some state agencies responsible to help school bus drivers protect children from unsafe environments. A fundamental responsibility of agencies, schools and employers to also help protect school bus drivers from unsafe workplaces also seems too often ignored as well.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice reported that from 1993 to 1999 over seventeen thousand bus drivers were recipients to violent victimization from students and adults.

A 2004 poll of 750 members of the National Association of School Resource Officers concluded school bus violence jumped 35-percent over the previous year.

In the majority of cases the assaults expanded from a simple unresolved minor issue within an established loud and unruly bus environment.

A few years back a minor issue over a high school child chewing tobacco on the bus escalated over the next few months. Ongoing arguments between the child and the bus driver was not resolved by the school. The child continued use, including spitting tobacco residue on the floor. On the morning of March 2 (2005) 47-year-old Stewart Co. (Tenn.) school bus driver Joyce Gregory was shot to death by 14-year-old Jason Clinard as she opened the bus service door to again board this out-of-control teenager.

Assaults, bullying, molestation and sexual experimenting are much more common on a loud out-of-control bus than on a safe, calm one. Issues considered minor and unchecked tend to escalate over time to the more horrific. By Spring have no doubt we will again be hearing from our nation’s press about bullying, mobbing, assaults, molestation and rape on the friendly yellow school buses.

A persistent lack of effective school bus driver support must reach chronic levels involving injuries, death, or public exposure before much is done at some facilities. Injuries or death oftentimes leading to litigation and the resulting threat to profits or resources often gets the needed attention, at least temporarily.

The response to public exposure can result in pubic meetings and overdone policies from school boards for children misbehaving on the school buses. A problem where original policy was not followed is that a child with a toy gun or a play weapon of some sort may be suspended, while bullies and other defiant children continue to ride the buses.

An excellent clue to how management and school staff views their school bus drivers is obvious in the level of training provided. Problem facilities train their drivers to ‘just drive the bus’ but hold them responsible and blame their drivers for anything that goes amiss. Drivers are treated as lower class employees, which often lack much, if any, violence prevention training. They are excluded from IEP meetings, a violation according to IDEA that can leave both children and their drivers vulnerable.

Too often the school involves itself in trying to appease a few overbearing parents and often over focus on trying to ‘fix’ defiant children.

Recently some parents in Knoxville (Tenn.) complained that a 13-year veteran school bus driver Donna McMahan swore at their children during a riotous situation on her bus. In a comment at her Web site she writes, “What happened on the bus was unlike anything I have ever seen before and I did exactly as I was trained and instructed to do.”

Regardless, she was pulled from the route over parents complaints that she swore at the kids during the event, hardly a crime in itself worthy of such an officious response toward the adult in charge, especially when no working camera is on board the bus. Bus drivers well know that children ride the school buses every day totting mouths filthier than some of the meanest, toughest truck drivers in this country. And that children also may lie about what happened during an event.

McMahan wished that everyone could see and hear exactly what happened on her bus that day. “I appreciate all the support [from] parents and fellow drivers, but am disappointed that the school was helpful during the incident, but then threw me to the wolves when parents complained and did not question all the children on the bus.”

Blame the bus driver does nothing whatsoever to help create safer, calmer school bus environments.

Fortunately some of the kids shot private videos during the event, which when watched clearly showed the bus driver was not swearing at the children or doing anything else outside her training.

Research has clearly shown video cameras reveal that virtually 100-percent of the time what school bus drivers report are more accurate than what unruly children and their parents often report. Yet, schools continue to side with kids and parents, leaving the bus driver to endue the maltreatment the unruly promote.

McMahan comments that she has learned a valuable lesson. “I will never drive another [school] bus without a working video camera on it.”

Does a camera on the bus really help?

The bus camera certainly did help at an Arizona school district when a 15-year-old Gilbert girl acted out on the bus and repeatedly demanded to be departed at an undesignated bus stop. The video was presented nationwide in press reports and at YouTube. Both the child and her mother in national press interviews accused the bus driver of attacking the child and calling for the bus driver’s removal.

The Gilbert Police Department had requested charges to be filed against both the student and the bus driver. The child’s attorney apparently displayed typical school bus safety ignorance, when commenting to the press that the bus driver ought to have been more adult and let the child depart the bus. It is rare, if anywhere these days that school bus policies would allow the bus driver to depart children at undesignated bus stops.

School officials stood by their bus driver throughout the entire ordeal and eventually prevailed.

In April (2008) various press reports reported that Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas had announced misdemeanor aggravated assault charges against Sammy Taylor. The Gilbert teenager was eventually found guilty of one count of disorderly conduct after triggering a brawl on a school bus.

County prosecutors also said that in accordance with school policy the bus driver had correctly prevented the student from leaving the bus. Charges against the 54-year-old bus driver Kim Sullivan were dropped. (~ “Gilbert teen found guilty in bus brawl,” 09/23/2008, Associated Press)

According to John Farr, retired Oceanside Unified School District (Calif.) Transportation Director, advocate for school bus safety and consultant to the transportation industry, most bus discipline systems delegate the consequence for student misbehavior to a "higher authority," implying that the school bus driver is incapable of handling the issue.

Farr agrees that the professional trained school bus driver is the best equipped to handle unruly children. "After all, they were the only adult present at the time of the problem," he said in an eLetter concerning this issue.

Functional facilities view their school bus drivers as mutual educators, acknowledge that their bus drivers are the adults in full charge of the students on their buses, train their drivers in violence prevention, as well as involve their drivers in the important role to help educate children, parents and school staff with good information that can help school bus drivers keep children safe. The very best train their bus drivers to manage most aspects of discipline on the school buses, including parent contact and student suspensions from the buses.

Farr believes a transportation policy that places the bus driver in charge helps keep parents informed, site administrators less involved (more time for other things), and the driver in full control of consequences. Most students appreciate the improved calmness on the bus. The few disruptive students either change their behavior or they will be suspended by the driver for increasing periods of time. (~ "Placing The Bus Driver In Charge," by James Kraemer, 2004 2safeschools.org)

The more successful providers form policy around the needs of the civil and well-behaved. These can be the most supportive when not ignored by ‘better than’ attitudes from special interests, school staff, administrations and board members.

Providers that focus policy on the well-behaved (children and adults) and what they want cultivate better relationships and more effective support for their school bus drivers.

So often it seems the unruly rule. And just as often it becomes obvious that the well-behaved (both the well behaved children and adults) were not properly prepared to defend what they want happening on the buses. And very often when this is the case, the well-behaved go silent and wait for the dust to clear, then proceed to clean up the mess.

The well-behaved can become patient janitors cleaning up after the unruly and paying for the costs themselves. Up to ten-percent of what consumers pay for merchandise at stores compensates for losses due to thieves. Everybody pays for the slobs, liars and thieves that run amuck these days.

The unruly on the school buses are much like the weeds in our lawns – one or two noticed quickly can be dealt with, but ignore it and what eventually happens is a lawn full of weeds. Not a lawn, nor a school bus environment need end up a mess, but to prevent this does require care.

The silent well-behaved have no voice. (jk)

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Policy Development SheetSchool Bus Code of Conduct

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In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Transportation and other authorities agreed that school buses are the safest form of transportation for getting children to and from school. According to the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academy of Sciences, a child is 13 times safer in a school bus than in other modes of travel.~ “The Relative Risks of School Travel,” 2002.), American School Bus Council (ASBC). Website

A study by the National Safe Workplace Institute estimated that the total costs to employers of workplace violence amounted to more than US$ 4 billion in 1992. ~ "Safety and Health at Work and the Environment" - (SafeWork)

“I used to be a peacekeeper in the Middle East. I was in the Golan Heights three times and when I started driving back in 1980 I remember thinking it was harder to keep the peace on the school bus than keeping the peace over there." ~ Brian Spence , veteran school bus driver in NovaScotia for 28-years.

FOR STUDENTS RECEIVING SPECIAL NEEDS TRANSPORTATION AS A RELATED SERVICE - PDF Document

Knox County driver hopes incident promotes school bus safety ~ By Lola Alapo, Knoxville News Sentinel, TN, 11/29/2008 - Story Link

“In the United States, about 160,000 children miss school every day for fear of being bullied, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Some of these children endure rides on buses where bullies have the run. Victims complain that these tormentors verbally abuse other students, tackle and pin kids down, and steal hats and books and throw them around the bus. Worst of all, the targets have no escape," says Barbara Coloroso, author of "The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander: Breaking the Cycle of Violence." ~ When the school bus becomes a scary place, By Cathryn J. Prince, Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor.)

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