Editor's note: This is a modified version of a letter that Jeff Walker, director of transportation at Litchfield Elementary School District #79 in Litchfield Park, Ariz., wrote to his staff after the Tuesday incident in Midland City, Ala., in which a man boarded a school bus, fatally shot the driver and took a 5-year-old student hostage.
Jeff Walker is director of transportation at Litchfield Elementary School District #79 in Arizona.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, a horrific incident took place on a school bus in Alabama in which a gunman ambushed a school bus to kidnap a child and fatally shot the student transporter.
Anyone who drives a school bus performs the same duties that this student transporter was performing when he lost his life. Our natural reactions are fear for our own safety, anger toward the gunman and sympathy for the student transporter and his family.
It’s not uncommon to expect a solution to prevent this from ever occurring again and expect a solution immediately; however, what are the solutions? Arm student transporters or provide armed guards on every bus? Provide each school employee with bulletproof attire? Install bulletproof cages around the driver’s compartment in each bus?
None of these is a truly viable solution, and would you really want to work in an environment with these conditions?
I am by no means trying to downplay the event that took place; however, all employees need to feel safe when they report to work each day and not worry “Is this going to happen to me?”
In the Alabama incident, the student transporter was ambushed, and there probably wasn’t much he could have done to prevent the situation.
The safety of the staff is of the utmost importance to all transportation directors at all times. Given the horrendous nature of this event — and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting just a few weeks ago — now is the time that transportation directors need to be working with local law enforcement to review policies and procedures in an attempt to prevent these situations from occurring, and to develop a plan of action in case they do occur.
In working with local law enforcement agencies, develop training exercises and mock simulations to prepare staff in dealing with these situations while being sensitive to staff emotions, so as not to instill fear in them.
School buses are still the safest means of ground transportation available. Incidents of this nature are extremely rare. [One similar incident took place about eight years ago, in 2005, when Tennessee school bus driver Joyce Gregory was shot and killed in the line of duty.]
Each day, more than 470,000 school buses hit the road at least twice per day across the U.S. This equates to around 170 million trips each school year, the vast majority of them without incident.
As always, thank you for your dedication to the safe transportation of our students each day. As a student transporter, you are part of a unique and elite profession.
Most people turn away when asked to drive a school bus, but as student transporters, we not only accept the challenge — we conquer the challenge.