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April 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

How to Survive a Violent Encounter

The March shooting of school bus driver Joyce Gregory reminds us that the threat of violence should not be ignored. Techniques for prevention and de-escalation can save the lives of passengers and drivers.

by Michael P. Dallessandro

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Show your human side
People tend to target individuals working in an “official” role such as a disciplinary matter between a driver and student. People can also become angry with school employees because in many cases school districts function as political subdivisions or taxing bodies. This would be the case when a parent is angry with a driver over a bus stop matter.

In the event you are confronted by a violent individual, try to distance yourself from your official role as a school employee and align more with your role as a father, mother, husband, wife or community member. Tell the attacker that you “hear” them and want to “understand” them. Make every attempt to bond with them. The more they see you as a person and less like a cold stranger, the better your chances for survival.

If you have a busload of children, try to secure the release of at least some of them early on. The longer a situation lasts, the harder it is to get concessions like this. Try starting out by asking for the release of the youngest children, pointing out that they are tired, hungry or have bathroom needs. Remember, time can be your ally. The more time you buy, the better your chances for survival.

Don’t try a power play
While you work hard to buy time and connect as a human being, there are also actions that can place you in dangerous territory. Try not to confront the individuals or antagonize them. Asking a would-be attacker if he “feels big and tough because he’s managed to scare a bunch of children” may only make him more angry.”

Also, do not defend the “system” you work for. The person may be angry with the schools, and you need to separate yourself from your employer at that point. Try to avoid comments like “relax” and “calm down.” We have all witnessed a friendly disagreement between two people turn ugly when one of them is told to calm down. You can imagine the effect those words have on an unstable person.

Never try to overtake the attacker unless you are 100 percent sure you’ll succeed. Many situations have had a tragic outcome from poorly launched, uncoordinated counter-offensives.

Worth more discussion
Violence and surviving violence are topics that are worthy of a much more in-depth discussion. Hopefully, this brief article has provided some talking points on how to keep ourselves and our children safe in a school bus environment.

Michael P. Dallessandro is transportation supervisor at Lake Shore (N.Y.) Central School District and a frequent contributor to SCHOOL BUS FLEET.

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