17. Addressing bullying
While the school bus industry tends to gauge its safety record by fatalities, many parents look at it another way. This was shown in a North Carolina State University study of parents’ perceptions of school bus transportation.
“Not surprisingly, parents don’t think of safety in terms of fatalities,” North Carolina state pupil transportation director Derek Graham says, referring to the survey results. “Rather, they think in terms of whether or not their child is safe — protected — from things that are unsafe. And at the top of the list is bullying.”
The study found that many parents choose the family car over the school bus because they feel that their child is not well protected from other kids on the bus.
“I don’t pretend to have a magic answer to this problem, but the first step is recognizing that this is a big deal to students and parents,” Graham says. “It needs to be more than a workshop topic for school bus drivers or supervisors; it somehow needs to be entrenched in our overall approach to providing safe transportation for students.”
18. Checking the bus for students
There are many approaches to preventing children from being left on school buses.
Kris Pavolich, transportation manager at Geminus Head Start XXI in Merrillville, Ind., implemented a policy to provide double checks: Children have to be signed on and off the bus by parents, teachers must sign off upon receiving the children, and drivers have to know exactly how many teachers will be delivering children back to the bus at the end of the day.
At Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Pace says that most buses are equipped with child-check reminder systems, but for those that aren’t, drivers are reminded to “walk the bus” during the morning safety announcements. Additionally, the first violation of the child-check policy is a termination offense, he says.
Transportation Supervisor Vicky Guy of Bullhead City (Ariz.) Elementary School District #15 uses a magnetic checkmark sign.
“The driver will walk to the rear of the bus and place the sign in the window,” she explains. “We have a person walk behind all buses. If a sign is not visible, the bus will be checked for children.”
Lake Shore Central School District requires that drivers and monitors wear reflective safety vests whenever they are on the clock.19. Enhance visibility with vests
To boost safety in school bus lots, some operations require employees to wear reflective safety vests. First Student, the largest school bus contractor in North America, is one of them. Lake Shore Central School District in Angola, N.Y., recently implemented a vest policy after a fatal accident.
In December 2007, Lake Shore bus driver Brenda Chiapetta was walking across the lot to her bus just after 6 a.m. Besides the darkness, there was a driving rain. At the same time, a mechanic was driving a bus into the shop for his first service of the day. The bus struck Chiapetta, killing her instantly.
“This was a traumatic thing for our department and for our school community,” Transportation Supervisor Michael Dallessandro says. In the aftermath, there were many safety-related suggestions “coming at us from all angles, and we did not want to make any knee-jerk reactions.”
This year, the district decided to require that drivers and monitors wear reflective safety vests whenever they are on the clock.
“It’s amazing how well you can see our staff members now in all types of light and weather conditions,” Dallessandro says.
Jill Segal of Walled Lake Consolidated School District says that her staff practices bus evacuations with elementary students three times every year.20. Offer training early, evacuation drills often
Offering school bus evacuation training for students is essential, particularly at the elementary level. Segal of Walled Lake (Mich.) Consolidated School District recommends practicing three bus evacuations annually with elementary students and establishing a district safety program for the younger elementary students.
“We use puppets and skits with Buster the Bus and go to each elementary in the early fall and do a presentation for grades K-3 in conjunction with our first bus evacuation of the year,” Segal says. “Drivers create it and act in it — it’s very well received by the kids and the staff.”
Maggie Graff, transportation director for Ridgway (Colo.) School District R-2, also encourages beginning a training program with elementary students as soon as possible once the school year begins.
“The kids are ready to do something physical since they have not been required to sit still all summer,” she says.
Also, providing a photo of the driver for each route will help students who are new to the district, Graff says.
Adds Illinois state pupil transportation director Cinda Meneghetti: “We have new students every year, and we need to make sure they receive the safety training. … Plus, we need to keep reiterating it to all students annually so everyone knows what to do in an emergency and how to stay safe.”