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February 01, 2013  |   Comments (10)   |   Post a comment

Letter: Reactions to the school bus shooting, abduction

By Jeff Walker


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Jeff Walker is director of transportation at Litchfield Elementary School District #79 in Arizona.
<p>Jeff Walker is director of transportation at Litchfield Elementary School District #79 in Arizona.</p>
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.

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.

 


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Read more about: Alabama, Arizona, school bus security


In the unfortunate event and demise of this poor bus driver, a handgun would not have prevented him from suffering his fate or the abduction of the child. There are those circumstances when no matter what preventative measures have been employed, a perpetrator has the upper hand and is able to commit a horrible act. Signs on buses indicating continual actual time surveylance and armed guard present wouldn't discourage someone in their "wrong" mind from doing something so horrible. I do agree with Jeff that it is instances like this that remind us to review our procedures in accordance with our local law enforcement agency and to ensure that we are doing everything we can within reason to ensure safety for all.

Tom    |    Jun 24, 2013 03:49 PM

Well said Jeff I will be sharing your post with our drivers. Thank You, Brian

Brian Prochazka    |    Feb 13, 2013 09:56 AM

Thank You Jeff for the acknowledgement. School Bus Drivers armed? Not sure about that. I am totally pro-gun rights, but.... On a school bus? We would always have to have it strapped to the body at all times of course. There are some pretty bad students out there that may decide they want that gun and attack the driver to get it and use it. Here's another scenario... bad guy enters bus with gun, Driver is at all times seat belted down. (disadvantage). If the driver was fortunate enough to draw his gun in time then we're talking about a close range shoot off, bullets flying, kids getting hit by them? Maybe knowing that drivers are carrying would detour "some" from another incident like in Alabama? If a crazy is determind to ditto this again, nothing will stop their twisted determination unfortunately. Here's food for thought...If a driver is approaching a stop and there is a person they have not seen before, and going on intuition, that deep gut feeling we have that screams somethings wrong, something is just not right here. We should Abort the stop and keep going and immediately report it to base and have them send an officer to that stop. Look, it's not like it's going to happen often. This could possibly save a life. And that's what our job is all about, Doing our up most in keeping our students safe from injury and death. Now we have to add kidnapping from off our school buses to the list. And hoping the students we protect do not get traumatized seeing their school bus driver getting shot and killed. I give a salute to my fellow drivers and stay safe out there, will ya please.

Tory    |    Feb 05, 2013 06:52 PM

A machine gun mounded on the front hood?

Lisa Light    |    Feb 05, 2013 04:38 PM

As a student transporter myself? It is an extremely rewarding profession! Unfortunately not one that pays as well as one would expect. So thank your child's school bus driver, the next time you get the chance. And thanks again for your adorable kids!

Lisa Light    |    Feb 05, 2013 04:36 PM

Like everyone, I have been sickened by the incident in Alabama. I am wondering about what Jeff says about needed review with law enforcement of policies and procedures that might prevent a similar event. I'd be interested in hearing from all of you about the components of policies and procedures that you find relevant and important in this situation. We need to attack the potential for this kind of violence, and the need for heroism like Charles Poland Jr. demonstrated, on many levels. If cooperation with law enforcement, and policy review is one of those levels, what do you feel like you need?

Peggy Burns    |    Feb 05, 2013 02:10 PM

I totally agree with your comments but sometimes, as I'm sure you already know, there's road blocks in getting support when it comes to school bus drivers; most people just want their child brought home with no delays but getting law enforcement involved would take getting the administration to support us; that can be very difficult, the administration usually only gets involved when it's teacher or a complaint. But I will keep after them. Again thanks for your acticle.

Dwight    |    Feb 05, 2013 01:34 PM

Probably so, especially when considering that the number one workplace injury for women in our country is homicide. Regardless, no place for badly injured or dead school bus drivers in our industry (or any industry) when good training is provided, or self-provided.

jkraemer    |    Feb 05, 2013 10:15 AM

i drive a school bus and have for the past 8 years. I like this job even though some days are more stressful than others, but I feel like there are far more dangerous jobs than this one.

Peggy    |    Feb 05, 2013 10:03 AM

I disagree with some parts of this article. First, I believe Charles Poland, Jr. was a hero every time he got behind the wheel of a school bus, and it annoys me that the crazy's name is now mentioned more than our hero's name, and in some cases the bus driver's name receives no mention at all. The crazy with a gun was taken out not by education brochures and crossing fingers for the best, but by a good guy with a gun. I would accept a bus driver with a handgun (providing a safety and laser pointer installed on that gun), an acceptable psychological profile, and real skill training could easily have dealt with that crazy on the bus. I would also accept an alternative: REAL close-quarter skill training, not the usual and useless bus driver 2-hr self-defense training some receive, but real, practiced, disciplined, and proved proficient. There was time to stop that intruder on that bus in the moment but unfortunately, our hero did not have the skills to do other than distract that crazy from taking more children. That is part of what makes for some heroes would suppose -- having not the tools, skills, or training but tries anyway to stop a crazy. Better support, that is skilled training, could have changed everything, and we would still have a hero behind the wheel of his school bus.

jkraemer    |    Feb 05, 2013 09:57 AM

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