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November 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Tackling School Bus Bullying

As bullying incidents onboard school buses reach new heights, experts on the subject discuss its scarring effects and offer strategic approaches for drivers, while school officials disclose how their districts are working to curtail this troubling problem.

by Kelly Roher, Assistant Editor

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In August, students in an Ohio city were riding a school bus when a boy took a video game from one of his peers and taunted him. The boy attempted to retrieve his game, but his aggressor tripped him and then began laughing. When the student got up, his aggressor’s demeanor changed — the boy had a bloody nose.

The driver attempted to assess the situation from her rearview mirror but stopped when she realized she ran a red light and was going to hit the truck in front of her. She tried to brake but was too late — she slammed into the truck head-on.

This incident demonstrates the damaging effects of student misbehavior and bullying onboard school buses. Fortunately, it is only a fictional scenario from Tears on the Highway, a film directed by Thomas Brown. Brown is a filmmaker who partnered with Zanesville (Ohio) City Schools to educate its students about the hazards of bullying.

Film is just one medium the district is utilizing to facilitate a safe environment and alleviate bullying onboard its school buses. The district and others around the country follow anti-bullying protocol and are employing innovative techniques to assuage this common problem.

Bus bullying abounds
In late July, ABC7 News reported that a San Mateo, Calif., student was attacked on a school bus last November. The incident was captured on a cell phone camera and was posted on the Internet sites MySpace and YouTube shortly thereafter.

According to the victim’s mother, the incident and its subsequent posting online have significantly impacted her daughter. She became depressed, and the news station reported that she was fearful of going to class and dropped out of school. The girl’s mother told the station, “She doesn’t want to leave the house. She’s afraid that the girls are going to come after her again.”

Bullying on buses is a global problem. In April, BBC News reported that 11-year-old Ben Vodden hanged himself late last year after enduring extensive name-calling while on his school bus. It also reported that the inquest for the case was told that Vodden’s bus driver was allegedly responsible for some of the name-calling. While the driver admitted calling the victim several of the alleged names, he classified it as “banter” that the two had shared and no further actions were taken against him because “it was the driver’s word against [Vodden’s].”

In August, Gulf News reported that a sixth-grader who attends a school in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, had to change schools after he was beaten up for refusing to allow an older student to take his seat.

“There was a group of four senior pupils who [used] to take the same bus to school,” the boy told Gulf News. “They were from grades 9 and 10. One of them asked me to vacate my seat, and when I refused, they started boxing my ears.”

Short- and long-term repercussions
In addition to physical damage, bullying can inflict severe emotional damage on all children involved. According to Dr. Ellen deLara, a family therapist, faculty member at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work, and a faculty fellow at Cornell University, bullied children tend to experience anxiety and, like the student in San Mateo, experience depression and are inclined to skip school. Moreover, kids who witness bullying but do not know what to do about it, or know what to do but fail to act, often feel guilty. She says bullies can also suffer from anxiety.

DeLara has been researching bullying and school violence for 10 years. She became involved in this field of study after her own children were harassed. Her research focuses on how, sometimes, the school system inadvertently supports a hostile environment. By extension, she studies bullying on buses because she views the bus as an integral part of students’ school day. “I want school administrators to become more aware of the problems that drivers are facing — they can’t just see school bus bullying as separate from the rest of the day,” she says.

Dr. Nancy Blackwelder, an international staff development specialist, teaches classes on student behavior management, one of which covers bullying prevention. Blackwelder explains that many children become bullies because they have been victims of bullying themselves. “As a result, they gain a form of control by doing the bullying,” she says.

Blackwelder says that there are two main types of bullying — direct and indirect. Direct bullying involves inflicting physical damage on the victim, such as hitting or kicking. Indirect (or subtle) bullying involves engaging in activities that harm the victim emotionally, such as spreading rumors about the victim or intentionally excluding the victim from social situations.

Blackwelder says that individuals can experience “devastating feelings of loneliness and abandonment” long after they finish school as a result of being bullied. She also reveals that a victim’s anxiety and stress can interfere with all aspects of his or her life and, as evidenced from the incident in England, can lead to suicide.

Bullies can also experience lifelong side effects. In addition to anxiety, Blackwelder says that the bullying behavior may extend into his or her adult life. “The individual may exercise verbal, emotional and physical abuse on those around him or her,” she says.

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