Bullying: Not on Our School Buses!

School Bus Should Always be a Safe Place

ALBANY, NY (10/18/2011)(readMedia)-- National School Bus Safety Week is October 17-21, 2011

The New York Association for Pupil Transportation is using the 2011 National School Bus Safety Week to highlight the factors that contribute to the overall safety of the school buses and school transportation systems that transport over 2.3 million New York children every day, and some 25 million nationwide.

The yellow school bus is an icon in our society. It speaks of safety and security and a solid and wholesome education for our children. That safety and security do not come easily but require the dedication and hard work of many professionals in the school transportation community.

This edition relates to the behavior of our children on the school bus and steps that schools and school bus drivers have taken and continue to take to ensure the safety of all children who ride those yellow school buses.

The school bus is an icon of safety. It should be a safe and welcoming place for all students. So when a child says that she doesn't want to ride the bus any more because she's afraid of being beat up or called names, something is wrong.

Bullying would seem to be easy on a school bus. In fact, studies show that the school bus, the cafeteria, the gym and school hallways are the most frequent sites for bullying to occur. Here is the scenario: sixty children on a bus with high seat backs and a school bus driver with her back to the children trying to pay attention to traffic. If a child wants to hit another child or lean over and call him a name or make fun of her glasses, it would seem to be easy. If some students want to gang up on the gay student in the back of the bus and tell him he is worthless, it would seem to be easy. It's just the nature of the vehicle in which they are riding.

So what's the answer to avoiding bullying on the school bus?

In addition to all their over-the-road responsibilities, school bus drivers are ultimately responsible for managing their school bus and this includes taking steps to manage the behavior of the students who ride the bus. Their first step is to create an atmosphere for safety on the bus, including being clear with the students that positive, supportive behavior is always encouraged and that disruptive or harmful behavior will not be tolerated. This must be a sustained effort because children must learn the behavior that is expected of them. The school bus driver creates that atmosphere and makes it clear that she cannot accept verbal or physical abuse on her school bus. The school bus driver works to create a civil environment on the bus and then can expect the students to abide by that approach.

Our schools and school administrations have a responsibility here as well to prepare school bus drivers and aides for what may occur on their school buses. In order for the bus drivers to be able to handle bullying driving their bus through traffic and weather, it is important for our schools and school transportation offices to provide them with (1) current and timely training on ways to manage student behavior and (2) support when they discipline or report a student for bullying and other unacceptable behavior. The school bus driver can only do so much from behind the wheel of the bus. But with training and support, they can do it much more effectively.

Parents need to remind their children that bullying and harassment and physical abuse are wrong and unacceptable behaviors. They need to remind their children that it is not only wrong but also potentially dangerous to bully or harass a student on the school bus or at the bus stop. If a driver is distracted by a scream or is alerted to an injured child while driving his school bus, he could veer into another vehicle or off the side of the road. In that instance, all the children on the bus are endangered.

We believe it is important for our drivers to understand not only the laws but also to understand the dynamics occurring between students and groups of students. In this way, they are better able to anticipate behaviors and problems that may arise on their school buses.

Together with the State Education Department, the U.S. Department of Education, and non-profit education entities like the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute and Safety Rules, NYAPT members provide training for school bus drivers about student management, about bullying and the new Dignity for All Students Act and other related areas of need.

NYAPT is proud to have joined forces with other educational groups and child-advocacy organizations in calling for safer schools and we are doing our part to help ensure the yellow bus is as safe as possible. Our website includes numerous agencies who care about the welfare of our children and work hard to develop successful policies, program models and practices. Check these agencies out on our website at www.nyapt.org and click on Resources and Links.

The school bus remains an icon of safety. We all must do our part to ensure that all children feel safe inside the school bus. For the Children!

The New York Association for Pupil Transportation is a professional organization comprised of over 600 members, representing school transportation officials in school districts, BOCES and public educational institutions across New York State. NYAPT is committed first and always to the safety of the 2.3 million school children we transport to and from school each and every day. We are committed to actively support legislation, regulations and policies that are in the interests of those school children and call upon State leaders to keep those children in mind during legislative negotiations.