In the wake of a highly publicized incident on a school bus in September, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) issued a white paper on bullying. It is excerpted here.
There has been a great deal in the news lately about an incident in Florida where an irate parent boarded a school bus and threatened students because he believed his handicapped child was being bullied. This incident is a seminal one in that it focused needed national attention on a long-standing problem that is difficult to solve.
The playground bully has been around as long as children have been going to school. But as society has changed and, some would argue, become ill-mannered, bullying has become worse, in some cases involving serious threats and physical assaults. Regardless of severity, it causes emotional harm to victims and cannot be tolerated. It occurs so frequently because those who bully know that the chance of any serious consequence is small. That needs to change.
Is bullying really that big a problem?
Unfortunately, bullying is ubiquitous, particularly among children. There are different estimates of how often children are bullied or engage in bullying:
• According to the American Medical Association, 3.7 million youths engage in bullying, and more than 3.2 million are victims of "moderate" or "serious" bullying each year (Cohn & Canter, 2003).
• Some studies have shown that between 15 and 25 percent of U.S. students are frequently bullied; 15 to 20 percent report that they bully others frequently (Nansel et al., 2001; Melton et al., 1998; Geffner, Loring & Young, 2001).
• Over the course of a year, nearly one-fourth of students across grades reported that they had been harassed or bullied on school property because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability (Austin, Huh-Kim, Skage & Furlong, 2002).
• Almost 30 percent of youth in the U.S. (or more than 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a national survey of students in grades 6 to 10, 13 percent reported bullying others, 11 percent reported being the target of bullies, and another 6 percent said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves (Nansel et al., 2001).
When and where does bullying usually occur?
• It occurs at early ages and in all grades, with an onset between 3 and 4 years of age (Byrne, 1994a, 1994b).
• In the U.S., it increases for boys and girls during late elementary years, peaks during the middle school years, and decreases in high school (Hoover, Oliver & Hazler, 1992; Banks, 1997; Garrett, 2003).
• It occurs two to three times more often at school than on the trip to and from school (Olweus, 1995), but ...
• It occurs virtually everywhere: in homes, nursery schools, preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, neighborhoods, churches, city parks, on the trip to and from school, on the streets and in the workplace, for example. It occurs in large cities and small towns, large schools and small schools — and even one-room schools in other countries (Olweus, 1995).
• It is most likely to occur when there is no adult supervision, inadequate adult supervision, poor supervision, a lack of structure, and few or no anti-bullying rules; it is also more likely to occur when teachers and students accept bullying or are indifferent to it (Beane, 2008).
• It occurs mainly in hidden areas and areas lacking adult supervision: halls, stairwells, the playground, areas where students take brief breaks, between buildings, restrooms, locker rooms, the cafeteria, on buses and parking lots; it occurs when students are walking to and from school, but also in classrooms (Beane, 2008).
• Every seven minutes, a child on an elementary playground is bullied (Pepler, Craig & Roberts, 1998).
Is bullying on buses common?
It's hard to say for sure, but it's definitely a significant problem.
The school bus is, in many respects, a rolling classroom, and many of the challenges that exist there also exist on the bus, perhaps to an even greater extent. There are typically far more children on a school bus than in a classroom, and the bus driver has to manage them all while operating a 10-ton vehicle — and facing the opposite direction! It's an incredibly tough job, made even more so by bullying among students.
We know parents have mixed impressions of school buses. A 2006 survey conducted by the American School Bus Council (ASBC) revealed that for the most part, parents think the bus is a safe way to transport their children to and from school and rarely hear of school bus accidents. However, the same survey revealed parents are concerned about the bus driver's background and qualifications, which are rarely known outside of the transportation department, and parents are also concerned about student misbehavior on the bus, especially more serious situations like bullying.
Parents in this survey also said their children had similar complaints about unruly behavior on the bus. In fact, one participant in a focus group stated, “The older kids are so rowdy on the bus; they don’t listen generally. And if a bus driver is always talking to them about being quiet, that’s distracting him from driving.”
One thing is for sure: Every driver knows that students who step aboard the bus have to cope with all kinds of issues, from problems at home and school to disputes with friends. We live in complicated times, and all manner of social, demographic and economic factors affect children and their behavior.
What is NAPT’s stance on bullying?
The short answer is that we have no tolerance for bullying, and stopping it is one of our national public policy priorities.
The challenge for us is that while bullying occurs on school buses (and many other places), the root causes and solutions involve larger societal issues that are very complex. As an accountable and conscientious industry, we want to be part of the solution but clearly do not have all the answers or ability to deal with them all effectively.
The recent incident in Florida has triggered an interesting public response: Some feel that the father is a hero for taking matters into his own hands. Others, including those of us in the school bus industry charged with the safe and secure transportation of children, believe that vigilantism is never acceptable.
That said, we all have experienced the frustrations of working for solutions within “the system” that can often be slow, bureaucratic and unresponsive. So, while we certainly do not condone the behavior of this father — behavior that is illegal in many jurisdictions — the upside is that this unfortunate incident is triggering a much-needed national discussion about bullying prevention and solutions. We intend to be very involved in that discussion.
Bullying complaints must always be taken seriously, and “the system” needs to provide a swift and thorough response when allegations are raised. No exceptions. Parents should never feel compelled to take matters into their own hands. They need the confidence that their child — whether on a school bus, at a bus stop, on a playground or in the school restroom — will not be subjected to taunting, abuse or assaults from other children. Those who bully need to know that their behavior will not be tolerated.