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Blind Spot: Tackling Bullying on School Buses

The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round… but what happens in the bus may shock you.

Over half of America’s schoolchildren take a bus to school, according to the American School Bus Council.

Each day, those buses take students to schools devoted to teaching and learning and protecting them from harm. New surveillance technologies, a growing focus on building security, and anti-bullying campaigns all are used to promote student safety and a positive school climate.

But that same focus on violence and bullying prevention does not always carry over to America’s school buses, according to writer and K12 parent Alina Simone, for The New York Times Sunday Review.

Though many major school districts don’t highlight school bus bullying as a top concern, a 2011 NEA study found that 50 percent of bus drivers nationwide witnessed instances of harassment, Simone writes.

Bus driving is a tough, often thankless job. Drivers are responsible for maintaining students’ well-being and meeting tight pick-up and drop-off deadlines, all while safely navigating busy roads. They’ll never be able to see every incident occur.

But school districts can do more to ensure students arrive to school without being harassed or hurt, writes Simone.

Here’s a few questions your school district should consider to better protect students from abuse on the way to school.

Who’s driving your buses and how are they trained?

If your district employs its own drivers, take a hard look at your hiring process. Are drivers vetted to see how they deal with the stress of potential instances of violence among students? Are they trained to recognize bullying and prevent it?

If your district contracts with private transportation companies, as the New York City public schools do, is there a way for you to ascertain answers to these questions?

Schools should have clear agreements describing the steps school bus drivers should take when students act out or become violent.

School district leaders should ensure that transportation companies ask for and use public feedback to make necessary changes to existing policies.

Do you need more eyes on your buses?

When school leaders look for solutions to violence on their buses, “bus attendants basically rank no. 1,” Joshua Hendrix of RTI International told Simone. Hendrix is researching school interventions against bullying on buses.

Since bus drivers can’t watch both the road and the back of their bus, attendants are used to monitor the bus for any signs of student violence, and to intervene when necessary.

Nearly half of U.S. school districts use bus attendants on at least some of their routes, Hendrix estimates.

Other school districts have installed video cameras to help drivers see blind spots and to allow districts to review incidents when violence is reported.

Adding bus monitors or installing cameras is a potentially expensive proposition, especially in a tight budget climate. But some investments are worth the financial burden they create.

How do you get parents involved?

Simone tells the story of a friend in New York City who asked to ride the bus alongside her son after he was bullied by classmates. Her request was denied.

While school districts offer many ways for parents to volunteer their time, few allow parents to ride on school buses in an effort to improve safety.

If this is the case in your district, it might be time to rethink your policy.

Make it easy for parents to report, whether by having an open-door policy with your staff, providing a hotline or online portal to report issues, or asking for feedback in community surveys.

What steps does your school or district take to keep students safe on the bus? Tell us in the comments.