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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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Districts take action
Pupil transportation officials do not take school bus bullying lightly. Jeff Porter, transportation supervisor for Jenison (Mich.) Public Schools, says that his district “bully-proofed” itself five years ago after drivers reported a substantial number of concerning incidents. The bully-proofing was a district-wide effort wherein its staff learned about the different types of bullying, learned what to look for as far as student behavior is concerned and then familiarized themselves with bullying prevention tactics.

In conjunction with this effort, the district has a zero-tolerance attitude toward bullying — district staff members tell the students if their behavior is unacceptable. “The more subtle forms of bullying are the easiest to deal with because the students often don’t realize that what they’re doing is considered bullying,” says Porter. “But when we talk to them about it and hit the right button, their behavior is usually not a problem after that.”

Porter is also having his drivers read a book written by deLara and Dr. James Garbarino titled And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence; a first edition was published by Free Press in 2001. Porter says the drivers’ response has been positive. “The drivers are enjoying the book,” he says. “Every month we talk about bullying, the scenarios mentioned in the book, how they relate to our district and what we can do to alleviate those problems.”

Porter says that reading the book has made his drivers more aware of the subtle forms of bullying, and they are more inclined to stop it. “I have some drivers who are on the timid side and who, prior to reading this book, would tend to ignore the more subtle forms of bullying,” he reveals. “I don’t think they’re ignoring those behaviors now because they realize that if they ignore it, they’re contributing to the problem.”

Several years ago, Jim Ellis, transportation director at Moravia (N.Y.) Central School District, wrote the New York State Education Department (NYSED) bullying curriculum. Ellis says he focused on conveying the importance of driver awareness. “The campaign for the curriculum was called ‘Not on My Bus.’ The idea was to advocate a no-tolerance policy with respect to bullying on buses,” he says. “We also asked drivers to be cognizant of target kids, those who are prime targets for bullies, and to make an effort to provide a safe environment for them.”

Although his curriculum is no longer in place (the NYSED changes its in-service curriculums annually), his message did not go unheard. He says that several drivers at his district took his message to heart. One snapped photos of all her students and posted them inside her bus. Ellis says this helped create a familial atmosphere and has cut down on the students’ propensity to bully one another. Another driver, Suzanne Stayton, has had her students create a list of putdowns and has this list posted in her bus. Students are not permitted to say those words on her bus, and this has engendered a positive, respectful atmosphere.

At Orange (Calif.) Unified School District, one of the first methods employed for bullying prevention is to emphasize to students that drivers are trustworthy. “Students are reminded to view school district adults, including their bus drivers, as trusted individuals whom they can go to if they feel at risk or threatened,” says Ellen Johnson, transportation supervisor. She adds that district personnel make it known to students that when they feel they are being treated inappropriately by their peers, they are encouraged to seek help from them; to that end, staff members are trained to remain confidential to discourage retaliation to the bullied victim.

Johnson says that the district’s drivers also receive awareness training, where they are taught to watch for signs that signify a student may be experiencing bullying. In addition to anxiety, these signs include shyness, insecurity and cautious behavior. “Drivers also use seating charts and regularly change seat assignments if they suspect that a student may be being bullied,” she says.

Finally, in the event that bullying occurs on a school bus, drivers are required to complete a Bus Conduct Report. “This citation keeps the lines of communication open between the driver, staff, district administrators and parents,” Johnson explains, “and by increasing awareness and maintaining open communication, we increase the comfort level of the students while they are on our buses.”

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