NAPT News & Views — The yellow school bus: a mirror of our society

Posted on March 1, 2009
NAPT President Lenny Bernstein says that one of the biggest advantages of the association's annual conference is the opportunity for face-to-face networking.
NAPT President Lenny Bernstein says that one of the biggest advantages of the association's annual conference is the opportunity for face-to-face networking.

The yellow school bus: a mirror of our society

Recently, school buses made the judicial big league when the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case that began when a 5-year-old Massachusetts girl reported to her parents that (we quote from an APstory): “a third grade boy repeatedly made her lift her dress, pull down her underwear and spread her legs.”

News reports about this case caused us to wonder what else reflects so much the good, bad and ugly in our society today than the iconic big yellow school bus.

Consider these other recent news reports:


  • GREEN CAMP, Ohio — A 13-year-old girl is accused of stabbing a boy as he was getting off the school bus. The boy suffered multiple stab wounds, and the girl was charged with attempted murder and felonious assault.
  • CHICAGO — A bullet ripped through a school bus window as sixth-graders were returning from a volunteer trip, shattering glass and sending terrified children running from the bus.
  • INDIANAPOLIS —Two students getting off a school bus were robbed at gunpoint by two men who pulled up in a van (the second such robbery in two weeks). The robbers made off with one student’s MP3 player and struck the other in the head because the kid didn’t have any cash!

    It wasn’t always this way. These kinds of incidents simply didn’t happen when many of us were growing up — or they were very rare. Many of us remember “the good ol’ days” when yellow school buses meant just one thing: safe and efficient transportation to and from school.

    The good news is that they still do. Performance has remained exceedingly high, thanks to the professionals who work in our industry.

    The other side of the coin, however, is that in our media-driven world, routine good performance doesn’t usually make the news, but the bad and ugly always get top billing.

    The reality of this conundrum is that over the last 30 years, our culture — our mindset as Americans — has changed, in some ways for the worse. While we embrace diversity, ethnicity and personal differences more now than ever (and that is a good thing), there are still significant challenges in each of these areas, and it has become more interesting, more newsworthy, to focus on them.

    Not surprisingly, there are times when the problems we have as a society manifest themselves in our educational system. It seems that hardly a day passes without multiple media accounts of some sensational incident in a school. From corruption to violence — if it happens in our society, it now also happens in the educational system.

    The yellow school bus is such an integral component of American education that it suffers whenever education is cast in a bad light. The reality is that school transportation is just one of the many convenient mediums where social challenges manifest themselves. But to newsmongers, the yellow bus has become a focus of the dysfunction that afflicts our educational system and our society as a whole, and it is guilty on all counts by simple association with the system it serves.

    Is this fair? Absolutely not. Take school bus drivers as an example.

    Today, school bus drivers must not just be proficient at driving a bus, but also at being police officers, EMTs, counselors and sometimes SWAT team leaders. Twice a day, they are on the social front lines and have a unique and sometimes hair-raising window on our world. We owe them more than gratitude for doing so much that’s taken for granted.

    We can’t bring back the good ol’ days, when things were perhaps kinder and gentler, but we can recognize school bus drivers, teachers and others in the educational system who face today’s realities often in silence and without all of the support they need. That’s the concept behind the Love the Bus project of the American School Bus Council, and NAPT is proud to be a part of that project.

    But we need more than platitudes. We need more than money, though that would be nice, especially since the nation’s secondlargest system of mass transit got $8.4 billion in the latest stimulus plan while the largest — yellow school buses — got nothing.

    So what can we do?

    At NAPT, we believe we can use the yellow school bus as a mirror that will help us show that the time is ripe for serious conversations that drive serious policy thinking about the value of pupil transportation in this country. If the best safety for children, reduced emissions and less congestion are as important as we hear from experts nearly every day, then getting more children aboard school buses should be a public policy imperative in every large and small town in this country.

    At NAPT, we are working on a new strategic initiative to build relationships and create partnerships outside the traditional systems in the hope of creating a steadfast and unwavering community mindset of support for school transportation.

    We invite you to join us as we reach out to current and potential partners and educate policymakers to meet not just the school transportation needs of our children, but to look at yellow school buses in a new and innovative way in every single community in this country.

    Yellow school buses reflect our society. Let’s start looking back at them in a different way.



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