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August 01, 1998  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

It Could Happen Here

Are you prepared for gunfire aboard a school bus? Recent campus assaults have forced transportation managers to scrutinize training programs, student conduct policies and emergency plans.

by Steve Hirano, Executive Editor

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Defusing a crisis
"When somebody is losing it, they lose their hearing, get tunnel vision and break eye contact," says Joe Hixon of Strategies Training Systems. What the driver needs is training in how to verbally de-escalate these situations. This may require the driver to "penetrate the person's intensity level," Hixon says. That means raising the volume of his voice and his intensity. "You might need to say, ‘Hey, you're really pissed off, aren't you?' in a direct, commanding tone," he says. Most importantly, drivers need to participate in role-playing exercises, preferably taught by law enforcement personnel. The exercises need to be as real as possible. Otherwise, the drivers might not react properly during an actual crisis. "People under stress go back to their training," Hixon explains. "If they have nothing in their bag, then they have the fight-or-flight syndrome." National School Safety’s Trump recommends that school districts offer their school buses to police SWAT teams for a weekend of training exercises. "These tactical officers may not have practiced on a school bus," he says. Unless they've ridden on a school bus recently, the officers may have forgotten how narrow the aisles are or where the emergency exits are located.

Guns won’t go away
Some educators believe that schools need to devise their strategies based on the assumption that guns will always be a factor. "We must learn how to raise a generation of kids in a society where guns are readily available," says Stephen Thomas, director of the Institute for Minority Health Research at Emory University in Atlanta (Ga.). "Once you accept that premise, then you realize that the solution is with the kids. They're the ones that should be brainstorming." At Polk County (Fla.) Schools, middle-school students are doing the brainstorming to keep the peace aboard school buses. Fred Murphy, the district's assistant superintendent in charge of transportation, says a program was started two years ago at a middle school to involve the students in developing the rules of conduct aboard school buses. Approximately 1,000 students collaborated with Murphy, 15 bus drivers and the school principal. They established a set of bus rules that were similar to the district's own, but Murphy noticed a marked increase in self-policing. "Anyone who violated the rules was breaking their rules, not ours," he says. The drivers and students met twice during the school year, at the beginning of the year and again after the Christmas break. Murphy says the series of meetings lasted two to three hours and enhanced communication between the drivers and their passengers. "We’ve seen our discipline reports reduced by 50 percent," Murphy says. "It has made a phenomenal difference."

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