Policy Development Sheet: School Bus Code of Conduct

What is presented here is a compilation of ideas from school bus drivers, industry staff and parents gathered over the past two decades. It may be difficult for some mindsets to make sense of. It can take time to see and understand a norm outside our own. To see it and too understand it does not mean agreement must be the outcome. None of the information in this article should be considered a substitute for legal or medical professional services provided from those professions.

Additional ideas can be posted at our forums -- 2009 Link: Click Here.

What school bus conduct philosophy is expected or believed expected?

___What do the well-behaved students believe?

___What do the well-behaved parents believe?

___What does the law believe?

All pretty much believe the same things.

The goal presented, when concerning the school buses, is often too long.

___What is the goal on the school buses in one or two sentences?

Timely transportation within safe, calm environments for children, and safe workplaces for staff.

___What are the potential liability risks for school bus drivers that knowingly fail to document and report unsafe bus defects, unsafe route issues, including unsafe bus environment conditions for students and also unsafe workplaces for bus drivers?

___What are the legal risks to parents that interfere with the operation of the school bus or with the school bus driver's duties?

___What are the potential liabilty risks for parents concerning defiant children that refuse to follow the bus driver's directions, which also results in injuries to others or the student?

Student Responsibilities

Policy overall should mention enough about children and adult responsibilities to help the bus driver keep kids safe.

‘Comfortable’ is a goal based on fluff, not reality, and should not be mentioned in policy. School buses are not comfortable, nor does the usual personal space needs denied students somehow make the bus comfortable because it is a school bus or just because they are kids

___The difference between a ‘tattletale’ and ‘telling’, and student responsibility to tell (report) to an authority of any student’s inappropriate activities that may harm the student or others. To tattletale is to report a student’s misactivity to get that student in trouble for the purpose of entertainment or retaliation. Telling is reporting to prevent potential injuries or to keep a student from ending up in worse trouble.

Expectations and Consequences

No need for detailed lists. Long defined lists are subjective attempts to categorize what are minor and what are major violations. Weapons, drugs, assault, bullying, sexual (including rape) ought to be in a category unto themselves.

Rather than a list of ‘shall’ and ‘shall not’, (Moses Method), presenting the actual state’s posted bus rules in policy saves grief from special interest attacks and is fully supported by statute. Other issues, expectations or rules (‘such as ...’) can be presented as brief examples seeded throughout policy. The responsibility to inform of any additional expectations can be presented as under the responsibility and direction of the bus driver to inform and enforce statues and district policy as the need arises, and additionally as the school and district administration or the school board include new issues and procedures in written policy.

Here is a simple expectation covering the basic issues in one sentence:

Follow the bus driver’s directions and practice the skill of courtesy.

___Serious interference with the school bus driver’s duties, especially bus driver distraction or otherwise interfering with the operation of the school bus needs more attention.

When addressing these issues mention the fact that bus driver distraction due to loud, disruptive student misbehavior inside and near the bus are the leading causes of school bus crashes and children struck by their own school bus. Policy could include a version of the following terms:

(1.) Establish in written policy that any student refusing to follow the bus driver's directions is a major safety violation, one considered adequate to allow for the student's immediate removal from the school bus.

(2.) Substantially Disruptive — shall mean that the route must be interrupted in such a manner that the school bus must find a safe place to pull off and stop in order to address the disruptive conduct of the student.

(3.) Substantially Interferes — shall mean that the student or any unauthorized person has interfered with the bus driver or the bus driver's duties (screaming at or otherwise defiant refusal) in the presence of the passengers and has failed to obey the bus driver's directives to cease and desist.

___Beware of words and phrases, such as ‘normal tones’ – usually too vague and can create subjective conclusions in the minds of the readers. 'Soft Voice' better describes what is wanted. ‘Any person’ ought to be clearly defined toward protecting children, the bus environment, and also the duties and workplace environment of whatever authority is in charge – such as the bus driver is in charge of the school bus and the students are under the bus driver’s care and direction while the students are riding on the bus and at their bus stops. (Exceptions may include crossing guard directions, law enforcement directions, and railroad safety personnel directions.)

___Policy certainly can mention that all students are expected to know and follow the posted bus rules and expectations before riding the buses, at least what is presented on the back of the bus registration forms, and also to know the common school, school bus and community expectations.

---Separate informal staff activities on tthe bus from the formal staff activities in the school or covered by the administration. Examples:

___The school and transportation department’s authority to establish rider boundaries, designate students allowed to ride the buses and establishing the location of the designated bus stops. Limited service to Hitchers and Guests, including any additional bus conduct expectations.

___When directed to transport a student or use a designated bus stop the bus driver is expected to immediately report any known hazard a student or bus stop posses to safety.

___Authority of the bus driver to intervene in any potential hazard or activity that may escalate to violence occurring on the school bus or at the bus stop. An act of violence does not have to occur ‘in the moment’ for an intervention against any potential for violence, such as joking, teasing or taunting and similar.

___Authority of the bus driver to determine when the bus environment is safe to transport students from the school, and the removal from the bus that trip of any student refusing to follow the bus driver’s or school staff directions.

___ The bus driver is, by law, in charge of the school bus and the students when on or near the bus, such as at bus stops:

Students wanting to ride the buses must follow the bus driver’s directions and practice the skill of courtesy. Failure to do so may result in immediate removal from the school buses.

Mention that in the event the bus driver or school staff waives the right to take a specific action upon one occurrence does not mean an action will be waived upon a reoccurrence.

Child left sleeping on bus

Avoid adding to parents emotional repossess to this issue in the press or otherwise - stay with the science.

Notes: The Pupil Transportation Safety Institute says 5 thousand kids a year are left on the buses. 2safeschools.org researching the nation’s press reports back some two-decades revealed that no deaths have occurred as a result of this missed procedure on actual school buses. Deaths have occurred when using vans, cars, suvs and pick-ups to transport schoolchildren.

"Looking for a child on a bus, on the surface, seems to be a very simple task that, underneath the surface, is much more difficult [than] what we realize." ~ Kathleen Furneaux, executive director of the Syracuse-based Pupil Transportation Safety Institute.

___What are the procedures to spot missed post checks before a child is left behind?

___What is the safety procedure students are expected to follow in the event a student wakes up alone on the school bus?

___What are the procedures the bus driver follows to check for sleeping children - check at each school and after each run, child-check device? (Are these procedures actually performed?)

___What are the Schools and other staff responsibilities and processes to help quickly discover a sleeping child left on the bus? (Do these procedures actually work?)

___Are there additional procedures in place when vehicles other than an actual school bus is used to transport schoolchildren?

___What is the discipline for the first occurrence when a bus driver/monitor leaves a child sleeping on the bus? The next occurrence?

___What are the discipline procedures for other staff in the event a child is left on the bus and not discovered within an acceptable time frame?

Other Issues:

___Other security and staff support issues at the schools and in route, such as parents approaching the buses at the schools. Impeding the school bus, such as blocking the bus to board a child that was late to his or her own bus stop. In route assaults by students or adults. Potential criminal related actions imposed, cooperation with law enforcement and the courts mentioned.

___Self inflicted injuries or injuries to others when a student is not following directions, potential consequences, including parent liability for their child causing injury to another child or the bus driver.

___Risks concerning food eaten and drink on the bus, including gum - Cross-contamination, allergy threat to other students, housekeeping issues, littering (a form of vandalism/defacement, graffiti). Plain water in a clear plastic container allowed?

___Bus stop abduction risks and remedies. Mention that sexual predators must not be the only ones watching over children walking to and from their bus stops and while at the bus stops. (Parent organized bus stop supervision.)

''It takes five seconds for an abductor to take a child into a car and be out of the area.'' ~ Ken Wooden, Child Lures Prevention (childlures.org)

___Bullying intervention form for kids and parents use.

___Fast bus video access to bus drivers, school and district staff, and law enforcement. Avoid access to students or parents unless the video is first declared public domain by the administration, school board or becomes a court public document.

___Timeliness of route issues and remedies: ‘Ready To Board.’ The industry’s national standard is five minutes early to designated bus stop. Chasing the bus, crossing behind the bus violations and remedies. Accurate Website route times postings. Emergency numbers to call when a bus fails to show within ten minutes of the schedule or when a child did not depart as expected. Emergency parent run telephone tree.

___ Compliments, Concerns, Complaints: School bus service survey cards (Compliments/Concerns) at every school and can be sent home on the buses. How to use the informal process (Compliments/Concerns), separated from how to use the formal process (Complaints).

___Formal consequences/suspensions. Avoid so-called levels of discipline or at least limit the illusion of any perceived advantage that can percolate from varying perspectives concerning so-called levels of misbehavior. Focus on consequences, as related to what sort of ‘controlled’ bus environment the well behaved children want, and also what well behaved parents would expect while their child is riding the school bus and when waiting/boarding and departing at the bus stop -- cater to these.

Base the disciplinary actions on maintaining a safe, calm bus environment, not some attempt to 'fix' children or adults. Something as simple as gum or food may be a so-called minor offense, depending on the food involved. Refusing to follow the bus driver’s directions (nothing in the mouth) would be considered a major violation.

The severity of the infraction can often determine the level of ‘action taken’ by the bus driver and school. Refusing to follow the bus driver's directions, disrespect toward fellow students, the bus driver or passersby are considered serious infractions on the school buses (Detention is a badge of honor for the most defiant.)

‘Appropriate level’? What does that mean? How much time is spent arguing over what’s appropriate?

The school principal, or designee (which may include the bus driver), will access the misbehavior, consider requests, assign the consequence, and may include an in-school suspension or community service in the intervention response for some infractions. Students in sports programs can adversely affect the school's reputation outside our community and may be referred to their coach for additional disciplinary action.

___Avoid excuses in written policy that promotes defiant students toward repeating misbehaviors, such as repeating an offense “...within thirty days.”

A student receiving a second citation within the school year is also reported to the transportation supervisor for possible additional monitoring and intervention. A student receiving a third citation may be referred directly to the transportation department administration or other Superintendent's designee.

Loss of student transportation privileges may include route, athletic, activity and field trip school bus transportation.

The school shall not permit the student's lack of other available transportation to influence the level of discipline.

School Intervention 1 - Results in student authored plan describing the issue and student's strategy to help correct the misbehavior. May include parent conference, and up to five days suspension of bus riding privileges. An opportunity to ease the intervention outcome may be available to students at some schools that are willing to participate in a bus safety class or community service assignment.

School Intervention 2 - May include immediate removal from the bus that trip, a parent conference and may result in up to ten-days suspension of bus riding privileges. An opportunity to ease the intervention outcome may be available to students at some schools that are willing to participate in a bus safety class or community service assignment.

School Intervention 3 - May include immediate suspension of bus riding privileges and a hearing with the District Superintendent, or designee, to consider expulsion from bus riding privileges for the remainder of the school semester or school year. These types of infractions can include but are not limited to: Persistent refusals to follow the school bus driver's directions, creating a hostile environment for students or a hostile workplace for the bus driver, bringing a weapon on the bus, harassing or bullying another student or the bus driver, sexual misconduct, physically assaulting another student or the bus driver, giving a false name or making a false report.

Talk about the informal and formal processes that ‘may’ lead (not ‘will’ or ‘shall’ lead) to removal from the school bus for a period of time -- include plenty of options at the bus and school level:

___Any combination of verbal warnings, seat changes, a written warning, calls to parent, a Pre-Citation Warning or a formal referral (Bus Citation) may lead to immediate removal, or an anticipatory response.

___Requiring the student to watch a school bus safety video might be one option before returning the privilege of riding the school buses.

___Offering a community service assignment, such as cleaning the buses, may provide an option to suspension from the school buses.

___Avoid ‘Minor,’ ‘Major’ or list ‘Levels’ of offenses. Seed the policy throughout with examples:

An example of what might bring an immediate removal from the school bus includes refusing to follow the bus driver’s or school staff directions, defiance toward a direction that may include bullying, vulgar language or distractions/tauntings toward the bus driver while still at or near the school.

What might bring a delayed response may include misactivities in route, such as changing seats while the bus is in motion, refusing to use a soft voice, eating on the bus and similar offenses.

Avoid extremes. An example for immediate removal, such as bringing a weapon on board a school bus would set the par too high.

Delayed responses (anticipatory) may include any combination of Courtesy Warnings, seat changes, a Pre-Citation Warning, a call to the parent, or a formal citation.

Stay away from ‘Will’ statements. ‘May’ is often better.

‘In The Moment’ bus level interventions may include:

Bus Driver Intervention One - May be a warning in the form of options and questions, (avoid statements). An option may be the opportunity to be moved to another seat. (Better-trained bus drivers avoid making statements – the one in control of discussion with a student asks questions, avoids statements.)

Bus Driver Intervention Two - May include the student moved closer to the bus front entry/exit door and a Courtesy Warning.

Bus Driver Intervention Three - May include a final warning in the form of different options, such as an opportunity for the defiant child to discuss some so-called right’s issue in the comfort of the school office while the rest of us go home on schedule. Other options may include a Pre-Citation Warning or a bus Citation.

Bus driver Intervention Four - May include the student turned over to a school authority.

Delayed (Anticipatory) – Might include any combination of a written Courtesy Warning, call to parent, a Pre-Citation Warning, a Citation, or simply advising something is going to happen but don’t know what yet. – (“Try not to worry.”)

___Season policy with industry quotes concerning bus driver distraction issues, injury risks when children sit outside the compartmentalization science the industry has established, injury quotes from national experts and the like. Perhaps include a graphic (available free from www.2safeschools.org) that shows industry recommended correct sitting and perhaps a graphic of the danger zones at bus stops:

"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, WVNS-TV, WV - West Virginia Media, Nov 20, 2008

"If the students are rowdy, there's no question that would take the bus driver's attention away from driving the school bus." ~ Ben Shew, West Virginia State Transportation Director ( School Bus Safety: Rowdy Kids, Story by Kate Krivanek, WVNS-TV, WV - West Virginia Media, Nov 20, 2008 )

"Child passengers [are] about four times, and infants about eight times, more likely to cause distraction than adult passengers. We do best if we are only required to pay conscious attention to one task at a time." ~ University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center

"A driver's odds of being involved in a crash or near-crash are nearly twice as high when the driver looks away from the road for two seconds or longer." ~AAA Foundation-Virginia Tech study, 2005

"Over ninety-percent of the crashes due to bus driver error involving school buses can be attributed to the bus driver distracted by student misbehavior on the school bus." ~Silent witness, 1999."

"Malbehavior from a child can not be ignored without also betraying the child's welbehavior." ~ James Kraemer, 2safeschools

"The biggest challenge is convincing students that telling on a bully is different from tattling." ~ Schools' view of bullying, Jan 30 2008, The News & Observer

"Employers have a responsibility to ensure that an employee's workplace is safe, even if it is on wheels." ~Maureen Shaw, Industrial Accident Prevention Association.

"Good behaviour on school buses is essential and behaviour and safety are intrinsically linked." ~Transport Minister Brian Gibbons, Wales

No need to fear mentioning seat belts. The industry now supports seat belts on the school buses, but wants the federal government to help fund their installation. To mention in policy that students are expected to sit as though wearing is seat belt is acceptable dialog.

Refer to the science -- ease up on the subjective, go with established industry national safety research and recommendations.

Energize the well behaved to help the bus drivers keep kids safe.

___What least thing can the well-behaved do to help the bus diver keep kids safe?

Follow the bus driver’s directions and practice the skill of courtesy.

“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” ~ 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

“I used to be a peacekeeper in the Middle East. I was in the Golan Heights three times and when I started driving [school bus] back in 1980 I remember thinking it was harder to keep the peace on the school bus than keeping the peace over there." ~ (2008) Brian Spence, school bus driver in Nova Scotia for 28-years.

2safeschools Resource CD includes actual policies, violence prevention training, FastTrack© processes to safer, calmer school bus environments, and much more. Click here for information.

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