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July 28, 2014  |   Comments (5)   |   Post a comment

School bus drivers are in the public eye

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

Thomas McMahon is executive editor of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.

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.

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Read more about: public image

My comments are based on 34 years as a smaller privately owned school bus fleet serving a rural 120 square mile area. Pride in ownership, appearance, and operations were taken personally and passed to every employee in the company. The 1960s brought automatic transmissions and women drivers changing the perception that parents held toward school busing. One room schools with 1st thru 6th grade were closed and consolidated with schools in surrounding towns. Student behavior counted in the safe operation of the school bus and students were held accountable for their actions. Parental fears were addressed with assigned seating that put kindergarten and elementary students in the front of the bus, middle aged students in the middle of the bus, and high school students in the back of the school bus. Drivers used assertive discipline procedures and if students resisted correction, the driver was encouraged to call the parent and ask for their help in understanding the problem and please return a call to the driver if necessary after discussions with their child. Public image was based on our motto, "YOUR CHILD'S SAFETY IS OUR FIRST CONCERN".

Dwight -- DSBSI Ltd.    |    Jul 29, 2014 12:30 AM

I have been driving school buses for 19 years the last 10 as Transportation Director. We have a small fleet of buses and most cases the drivers have been teachers in the school. We have zero tolerance on the bus, in that I mean no bullying and follow the rules. Every fall the first day of school a Parent night is given to inform parents of the bus rules and how behavior problems are handled of the bus. Everything is forgotten within a few weeks when the child goes home and tells their parent something has happened on the bus. The child does not, or will not tell the bus driver. But in most cases it is not as bad as the child or parents make it out to be. Little Johnny and Sam are BOTH poking each other and by they get home is blown into a knock down drag out on the bus and the DRIVER did nothing. Then the parents get mad when they come in and find out what really happened and now the parents are still mad at the school, not the child that has not been honest. This is one way bus drivers are held to a higher level than other drivers. Last fall in an other district had an accident. When people first hear about it, it was the DRIVER'S fault, but within a few hours it comes out the SUV that broadsided the bus (ran a stop)the driver had decided to stop and drink one too many, he is now serving 3 years in jail. But the bus driver was considered at fault right away, and then it took several days before all the details came out. In our day and age the media likes to make a story at times when there is none, oh yes and we have parents who call the media before they even try to talk to the school.

Douglas    |    Jul 29, 2014 03:27 AM

Screening applicants is our only defense. You want to select a reasonably caring person with experience with children. Ask applicants how they would or have handled serious incidents with students in the past. If you have a driver ranting about how they handle kids or how aggressive they become when responding to a student who is disruptive, pass over them. No one wants the driver to become part of the problem. Just taking a moment to say "Good morning!", often is appreciated by your passengers.

Roberta    |    Jul 29, 2014 03:54 AM

I agree that if you do something good in/on the bus you are a hero for a day, but if someone even suspects something is not right you are in the mud for at least a week. It is a unique and challenging role to be a driver, but it is very rewarding too. The kids do look up to you for safety and support as a professional. I am reminded of the song " youve got the whole world in your hands". its true, you do have poeples whole world in your care as a bus driver!

steve carlson    |    Jul 29, 2014 04:05 AM

As long as the school district has a comprehensive set of policy guidelines, and the drivers are properly trained, and the district stands behind those drivers, most things will go along well. The occasional problem with parents will arise but if carefully handled these will be resolved. It is when the chain of clear policy and training breakdown, or the district does not follow up and behind the drivers, that there can be problems. The tighter the program, the better the results. For instance, how many district require seating charts for K-8? Or, when was the last time that a transportation news letter went out to parents? Or email regarding the happenings at the district with a portion devoted to bussing. Another idea, what if some parents were invited to ride-along as a volunteer adult to observe and help with control.

Dave Barnes    |    Jul 29, 2014 11:19 AM

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