In Littleton, Colo., we saw ourselves. We saw the darkest side of human nature flare in harsh muzzleflash, and we recognized that we are not beyond its reach. The horror that was there, is here. This outburst of senseless violence, so vividly captured and endlessly reported by the news media, puts terrifying possibilities at our doorstep, into our school buses. Now that we have put some chronological — if not emotional — distance between ourselves and the assault at Columbine High School, we search for ways to respond. We try to make sense of the tragedy, we seek to lay blame and we pray that it doesn’t happen here. We need to do more.
Expand your community
School bus operators need to close the gap between the classroom and the school bus. It’s important that the transportation department increase its involvement with principals, teachers, administrators, school psychologists and parents. The goal is to share information and experience. As a school transportation professional, you have insights that they could never fathom on their own. They need to know what you know and vice versa. Too often, transportation managers rely on their supervisors — often an assistant superintendent — to be the department’s liaison with the administrative and academic community. Certainly, transportation directors face multiple time constraints and unending stress, but they can contribute, and absorb, so much useful information that it’s worth the extra time and effort to attend meetings outside the bus compound. Drivers need to do their part, too. They hear things that teachers and counselors might not. They probably know more about a student’s home life and family relationships than the child’s teacher. That information has value and should not be ignored. In the aftermath of Littleton, some school districts have overreacted to student pranks involving toy guns, manners of dress and threats of violence. Drivers should warn students that any behavior suggesting violence against people or property will not be tolerated. Drivers also need to be particularly sensitive to bullying. Often it’s the student who’s been insulted and intimidated on a regular basis who strikes back.
Dedicated drivers needed
The need for dedicated, committed drivers is greater than ever. The driver shortage notwithstanding, transportation managers should resolve to recruit drivers who enjoy being with children. These are the drivers who will take an interest in their passengers’ lives and, perhaps, identify a potential crisis before it spins out of control. Drivers who sit silently and sullenly behind the wheel, annoyed and frustrated by every element of the driving experience, are less likely to spot trouble in the making. If you haven’t done this already, contact your local law enforcement agency and ask for a representative to help train your staff — including drivers, dispatchers, route supervisors and mechanics (many of whom are substitute drivers) — for potentially violent situations, especially those involving guns. In our February 1999 issue, we published a feature article called “How to Survive a Hostage Situation on Your School Bus.” Author Tim Parker, assistant transportation director at Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools, provided excellent information on how to prepare for terrorism, which, as he points out, will more likely be perpetrated by a disturbed student or disgruntled employee rather than, say, an anti-government extremist. It’s OK to overreact to Littleton. Allow your drivers to express their fears and concerns, even if they seem misplaced and exaggerated. The worst possible reaction to the massacre is denial. You may not fit the profile of a school district with a violent incident on the horizon, but they probably thought the same thing in Littleton, Springfield, Ore., and Jonesboro, Ark. We live in a world that’s changing so rapidly that confusion seems to be the norm. That’s as true for our children as it is for us. Let’s do whatever is necessary to protect them and ourselves.