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August 01, 1998  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

On an ordinary day, madness on a school bus

by Steve Hirano, Executive Editor


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Imagine him on a school bus. Pulling a semiautomatic handgun from his backpack. Firing point-blank at the 60 other passengers. It's loud now, what with the weapons fire, breaking glass and the screams of the wounded and the soon-to-be wounded. The boy, only 14, continues to empty his gun into his classmates, howling obscenities and laughing at the madness he's created out of what was an otherwise normal day. The driver frantically radios for help, while desperately trying to usher students out the front of the bus. One student tries to escape through the rear emergency door but is cut down. Finally, two brave youngsters tackle the boy and wrest the gun from him. One is shot and killed in the process. The final toll — five students dead; 12 others injured, three critically.

One year ago, this scenario would have been unthinkable, the ravings of a weak-kneed pacifist who had digested one too many manifestos against the National Rifle Association. Earlier this year, however, Kip Kinkel and his gun-toting brethren in Jonesboro, AK., Pearl, MS., and West Paducah, KY., taught us that these worst-case scenarios are more than scenarios. Kinkel, et. al., may have forever changed the way we look at school safety.

Zero tolerance adopted
School officials around the country have responded to these violent outbursts with get-tough policies. Student threats against school personnel and against other students are not being treated as pranks anymore. In the wake of Kinkel's violent rampage at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., many school districts have revamped their student conduct policies. Where they previously used discretion on threats before calling in outside authorities, they are now forced to notify police about all violent threats. Students who draw up death-wish lists are discovering that administrators, principals and teachers are reacting — and, in some cases, over-reacting — with suspensions and expulsion. Zero tolerance is becoming more than just an educational catch-phrase. Severe punishment for severe danger. It makes sense. School bus operators are being encouraged to adopt the same vigilant attitude. Death threats — no matter how seemingly facetious — are to be reported to the building administrator for investigation. Bizarre behavior (I know, that is a redundant usage when referring to the middle-school population) should also be reported. And drivers should be on the lookout for weapons, not just guns but also knives, bats and anything else that could be used to harm other schoolchildren.

Your passengers, your allies
You might want to have your drivers warn their charges during the first week of school that weapons and threats will not be tolerated. Let the passengers know what the expectations are. Probably the most important advice that can be given to drivers is to know their passengers. Develop a trusting and respectful relationship with them. Not only will this help drivers manage behavior on their buses, it will also help them discern when their passengers are especially troubled and may need crisis intervention. These students may also feel comfortable reporting to drivers that one of their peers has issued a threat or is carrying a weapon. Training by law enforcement officials in handling violent encounters, including hostage situations, can only help drivers prepare physically and emotionally for their jobs. Transportation supervisors should explore the availability of this type of crisis intervention training. The most dangerous attitude that you could adopt is denial. Our campuses and school buses are safe. Our children would never bring a gun to school with the intent of harming their classmates. That could never happen here. Yes it could.


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