How to avoid the parent trap

Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher
Posted on September 1, 2002

As long as there are children to transport to and from school, there will be parents of those children to keep satisfied. Can't have one without the other, can you? As Associate Editor Joey Campbell points out in his feature story, "Parents Speak Out: Ideas for your School Bus Operation," parents often have strong opinions about the transportation service their children receive. Unfortunately, their beliefs can be based on misconception, ignorance or personal bias. The key, then, to building a good relationship with parents is providing them with accurate and enlightening information about your program. Make parents your partners
Armed with this information, parents can be your partners instead of your adversaries. Here are three common misconceptions that parents have about pupil transportation that need to be countered with accurate, objective information. 1. Buses aren't safe without seat belts. This, of course, is the most common misconception that the parents, and the general public, have about school buses. To be honest, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's report on occupant protection released earlier this year will make it more difficult for transportation managers to explain why buses aren't equipped, like other vehicles, with three-point belt systems. The study did reconfirm that lap belts don't belong on large school buses, but it suggested that, properly used, lap/shoulder belt systems could provide some small safety benefit. I suggest that you mention the trade-offs to installing three-point systems (e.g., higher costs, lower capacity) and point out that compartmentalization is still a highly effective passive restraint system. It is important for parents to understand the fact that compartmentalization doesn't rely on the child to do anything except stay in the seating compartment. 2. Bus drivers are neither capable nor adequately trained. For some reason, parents believe that anyone who would accept a position as a bus driver, because of its low pay and lack of status, must be desperate for a job and therefore not highly capable or skilled. This is an easy argument to refute, given the training and testing requirements that bus drivers must meet to get behind the wheel. You can cite the CDL requirements, the criminal background checks required in nearly all states, the federal drug and alcohol testing program and the specific school bus training required in the classroom and behind the wheel. School bus drivers are among the most intensively trained and tested professional on the road. 3. Students are not safe on the bus because of misbehavior. This misperception stems from growing concerns about youth violence. These concerns, however, are misplaced. Although it's true that bus passengers occasionally are involved in fights, sexual harassment and bullying, these incidents are probably no more prevalent on a bus than on the street or on a playground. In fact, you could safely assume that children who walk to school are more likely to be victimized by crime than those who ride the bus. Yes, riding on the bus does create potential problems by putting students in close quarters with one another, but an adult trained in behavior management is always there to defuse conflicts and, if necessary, radio for the assistance. Listen carefully. . .
The other key to maintaining a good relationship with parents is communication. Responding promptly and courteously to phone calls is critical. How many times have you formed a negative opinion about a company because its representatives haven't returned repeated phone calls? Even if the problem was satisfactorily resolved, the phone discourtesy will be remembered. Find time to communicate with parents, listen closely to them and make sure they know what the rest of us know about buses, drivers and safe passage.

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