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November 05, 2013  |   Comments (5)   |   Post a comment

School bus fights: how drivers can intervene

Intervention doesn’t have to mean using physical force. Calling dispatch for help, stopping and securing the bus, and giving orders to the students are key steps in responding. 

by Jesus Villahermosa Jr.


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In the event of a school bus fight, one of the key steps in intervening is to immediately notify dispatch of the situation.
<p>In the event of a school bus fight, one of the key steps in intervening is to immediately notify dispatch of the situation.</p>

Get physical?
To answer that question, you first have to understand that there is no such thing as a “Good Samaritan” physical intervention law (aka a “Duty to Rescue” law) in any state in this country.

Let me make it clear that I am no lawyer, and I have no desire to be one. But I have testified as a use-of-force expert numerous times in superior courts in Washington state in various types of trials, so I do have some knowledge of when you are allowed to use force and when you are not required, legally, to do so.

No law can require citizens to put themselves or others in harm’s way in order to rescue someone else. This is the main issue to focus on when there is a fight on the bus.

Most states say you can use force, when reasonable and necessary, in the following circumstances:

1. Self defense
2. Defense of others
3. Self-inflicted injury
4. Property damage

In other words, it doesn’t matter whom you work for; no employers can take away these rights from you simply because you work for them.

Defending yourself
While teaching a group of certified staff at a high school in Washington state, I spoke to a teacher who was assaulted by a student. She told me that as the student was assaulting her, she curled up into a fetal position on the ground as he punched and kicked her repeatedly.

This shocked me, so I asked her why she didn’t defend herself, and her answer shocked me even more. She told me that when she got hired, it was made very clear to her that under no circumstances was she to lay her hands on any student. She said she was told, “Don’t ever touch the student.”

I am sure many of you were told the same thing when you were hired. What the administrator who told her this should have said was, “Don’t ever touch a student if you don’t have to.” That would be a clearer statement of what they wanted her to consider, but in no way does someone have the right to tell you that you can’t defend yourself if you are being attacked.

Some of you may be thinking, “Aha! I knew I could use force if I wanted to!” That may be true, but then comes the bad news. If you do use force as a driver to separate two kids fighting on a bus, you are opening the door for not only consideration for criminal charges if the force used is excessive, but also for civil liability if the force used is considered to be excessive, negligent or grossly negligent.

That means the child’s parents can sue you and the school district for your actions, and if you acted outside of the scope of your training, a judge could rule that you alone will be responsible for any monetary amount that is awarded to the plaintiff. Your personal assets could be attached to by the plaintiff if you lose the tort action filed against you, which is something that most drivers would never even think about.

Don’t do nothing
The second question most drivers then ask me during the training is, “Can I also be sued if I do nothing to break up the fight?” The answer to the question exactly stated that way is, “Of course you can!”

If you actually had a fight start on your bus and you didn’t notify the dispatcher but just kept driving down the road, doing nothing about the fight, then, in my opinion, you should be sued and you need to consider another occupation, because it is obvious from your lack of action that you don’t care about your students.

But let’s take a look to see if John Moody in Gulfport, Fla., just stood by and did nothing, as the media initially reported. As I stated earlier, I have taught thousands of bus drivers around the country, and every agency or district I have trained for has a basic protocol that their drivers must follow that is similar to the following:

1. Immediately notify dispatch that there is a fight on your bus.
2. Provide your bus location.
3. Pull off to a safe area if possible.
4. Stop and secure the bus.
5. Provide directives to the students near the combatants to distance themselves from the combatants.
6. Order the combatants to stop fighting, but do not leave your driver’s seat area nor go back to the location of the fight.

So let’s take a look at what John Moody did. The following is an excerpt of an article published by WFLA.com describing Mr. Moody’s reaction to the fight on his bus, which was recorded by a surveillance camera:



“The bus driver, John Moody, can be heard yelling for somebody to try to stop them and calls dispatch for help, “I got a fight. I need help in a hurry. I got a fight. I need help in a hurry.”

The punches and kicks continue, and the victim falls between the seats. At one point you can hear his screams on the video. The bus driver yells at the attackers, “Leave that boy alone,” but doesn’t try to intervene physically.

Then he again calls dispatch to verify the address. “Get somebody out here quick, quick, quick. They’re about to beat this boy to death. There’s nothing I can do … please send somebody,” said Moody.

According to Pinellas school bus driver policy, the driver’s first duty is to call dispatch, and only has to step in if they think it’s safe. They’re not required to intervene.”



And there’s the point of this article: Any bus driver facing similar circumstances does not have to physically intervene, but, in my opinion, you are required to provide some type of intervention. Intervention includes calling dispatch to advise them of the fight on your bus and requesting assistance, bringing the bus to a safe stop, securing the bus and ordering the combatants to stop fighting — all of which Mr. Moody did.

Let’s not forget that Mr. Moody was a 64-year-old bus driver, and there were three extremely violent and aggressive suspects who could just as easily have turned on Mr. Moody had he tried to physically intervene.

In fact, given the level of force the three suspects were using on the 13-year-old victim, I could see where if Mr. Moody had used force to stop the suspects, he would have been scrutinized for using too much physical force. Then the media would have asked what physical force training he had received to qualify him to use that level of force!

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Read more about: student violence

"... the training bus drivers receive is definitely not “reality based” for crisis response situations," is one of many accurate statements in this must read article. Villahermosa is of the very few state funded presenters, of over 20-years attending state training in my state, that seemed to have an actual awareness of the school bus environment. "Practice does not make perfect ... perfect practice makes perfect," is a knowledge among law enforcement that seems never to have been actualized at most school bus driver training, most especially in the area of student management. Villahermosa's training is beyond our industry's capabilities, except where school bus drivers have overcome their fear of termination in the event any parent or school administrator complains. The bus driver's actions can be perfect, can right for the situation, can be lawful, and that perfect school bus driver can still be terminated by management and/or the school board. Villahermosa's training is astonishingly real, any school bus driver applying his training probably ought not be working for a hostile employer. The sad reality is that it takes only a few complaints from the hostile for some management styles to water-down Villahermosa's precision training to the typical ineffective training that school boards cater. One reality "DO," is to first find an employer that actually and effectively helps keep both children and the bus driver safe. Helps insure that Villahermosa's training has the greatest impact when helping keep kids safe, and without the bus driver used as a scapegoat when hostile complain.

jkraemer    |    Nov 12, 2013 12:06 PM

I am the coordinator of drivres training and certification for the School District of Philadelphia. We here in Pennsylvania follow pub 117 which is School Bus Driver's Mamual and it said we are not allow to touch the student. So the quetion is what do you when a fight happen on your bus?

craig poles    |    Nov 12, 2013 06:27 AM

Excellent, excellent article. My congratulations to Mr. Villahermosa. It is a well thought out and well written article. This is exactly what I teach my employees and my district endorses. Pull over to the side of the road in a safe location, contact dispatch – identify your location and request police and, if necessary, fire rescue, tell the students to stop fighting and let them know that there will be referrals/consequwnces if they don't stop now, make sure the other students are safe and keep yourself safe. Keeping yourself safe is the number one priority - if you are hurt, you cannot help anybody else.

Randy Mazie    |    Nov 07, 2013 11:38 AM

This article warrants attention. Good details. Good information to help ask questions. Thank you!

Anonymous    |    Nov 06, 2013 10:23 AM

Did I over think the point of this article? I was looking for do's and don'ts!

Terry    |    Nov 06, 2013 08:13 AM

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