Thomas McMahon is executive editor of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.
Back in the ‘90s, basketball star Charles Barkley caused a stir when he argued, “I am not a role model.”
Despite that audacious claim, Barkley and other professional athletes have been role models to millions of children. Sports stars are constantly in the public eye, and that means that their actions may have an impact on multitudes of impressionable young minds.
Similarly (albeit without the fame and fortune), school bus drivers are also role models to many children. We’ve often heard it said that school bus drivers are the first and last school staff members that many kids encounter each school day.
The way drivers greet their passengers, handle disciplinary issues or respond to a student who’s struggling can have a lasting impact on the youngsters on their bus. Even when school bus drivers are off the job and out in public, they may be recognized by someone who rides (or rode) their bus.
Also, because of the sensitive nature of their profession, school bus drivers are susceptible to ending up in the media spotlight.
Sometimes we see heartwarming stories of drivers’ great deeds (saving a choking student, helping their passengers learn to read, etc.). For example, when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback proclaimed School Bus Drivers' Appreciation Day last fall, Rannie and Diana Schmidt were among those who were recognized. The driving duo came across an accident and provided critical aid to a mother and daughter. The Schmidts won a state association award for heroism, and their efforts were spotlighted by several publications.
But all too often, it’s the instances of school bus driver misconduct that make the headlines.
That was the case in New Jersey recently. As we reported on Friday, two school bus drivers were among 14 men who were arrested and charged in an operation targeting child pornography offenders. The school bus drivers were called out in the headline of the state attorney general’s press release and in the headlines of many of the ensuing news stories.
Earlier this year, Fox 25 in Oklahoma City did an undercover investigation in which it found some school bus drivers gambling in a casino while they were on the clock during field trips.
These types of transgressions in no way represent the majority of school bus drivers, who carry out their duties with integrity, professionalism and dedication to the safety of their passengers. It’s unfortunate that the misdeeds tend to get more attention.
Here at SBF, we report the good news and the bad news, with the understanding that our readers in the pupil transportation industry can gain insight from both. The recent examples of misconduct mentioned above are reminders that school bus drivers are in the public eye, and their actions can impact many people’s perceptions of their profession.