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September 01, 2009  |   Comments (25)   |   Post a comment

Strategies for Discipline Problems on the School Bus

Transportation directors are making use of special programs, equipment and driver policies to address discipline problems — and seeing results.

by Claire Atkinson, Senior Editor


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SCHOOL BUS FLEET has covered several stories about school districts developing programs that help manage student behavior on the school bus. At Milford (Mass.) Public Schools, the district worked with its transportation contractor to create a Bus Committee, which oversees a School Bus of the Month program, develops educational materials for students and provides incentives and prizes for good behavior. The committee also implemented a “three strikes” policy to deal with discipline issues.

Schenectady, N.Y.’s Howe International Magnet School has a Peaceful School Bus Drill, which teaches school bus behavior to students and also helps build relationships between students, bus drivers and school administrators. The 45-minute program groups students by bus route, then groups rotate to various stations for activities aimed at reducing bullying incidents, improving safety and creating a sense of community.

Officials at John T. Waugh Elementary School in Angola, N.Y., rode along on school buses to determine what behavior problems needed to be addressed. They decided to organize special lunches where students of all ages were seated with their bus drivers and all signed a bus pledge promising to follow bus rules. “Bus buddies” were also assigned to monitor problems among students on the bus, particularly bullying. Based on feedback from the bus buddies, drivers and transportation management select a Bus of the Month, and these students and their drivers receive a special lunch and certificates.

Deputizing drivers
For John Farr, giving school bus drivers the authority to deal with behavior problems directly provides many benefits. During his tenure as director of transportation at Oceanside (Calif.) Unified School District, he says, “I was a little skeptical at first, but once I saw how it worked, I saw that the drivers feel much more supported by a system like this.”

As Farr explains it, deferring discipline matters to a higher authority, like the principal, sends the message to students that their bus driver has no power, a situation kids can easily take advantage of.

However, if drivers are allowed to call the parents of misbehaving students directly, “the kid tells their friends, ‘The driver really did call my father,’ and it permeates the whole bus,” Farr says. “The consequences are immediate for the student, which is the way it has to be.”

Under this system, a driver encountering misbehavior on the bus issues the student a warning and follows the discipline procedure set out in the transportation department’s driver handbook. If the student continues to misbehave, Farr says the driver should contact the parent that evening.

He has found that drivers need some training in making these kinds of phone calls, but some simple tips can result in successful outcomes.

“You ask for their help, using those words: ‘I need your help. Your child is causing some small problems on the bus. Before I go to suspension or any more serious measures, I thought you could help me with this.’ That way you enlist the parent’s support,” Farr says.

Frequently, parents defend their children before hearing the driver out, which is understandable, he notes. But if the conversation continues in a negative direction, Farr trains drivers to then take down his or her name and number to call back later. “Generally, I wait 10 or 15 minutes so they have a chance to talk to the child with the information the driver gave them. Then I call the parent and if there’s no resolution, I ask if they’d like to meet with me and the driver and possibly a school administrator,” he says.

Letting transportation staff deal with discipline problems is usually a good thing for school administrators, too. “They loved it,” Farr says. “For the assistant principal, bus discipline took up probably 20 percent of his day. When that went away, whenever I did ask them for help, it was no problem.”

For school districts looking to implement a similar system, Farr recommends the formation of a committee to work out the details of a written policy and the associated paperwork, such as discipline referral forms. “Then have it enacted as a board policy, so it comes from the superintendent and board all the way down to the bus driver,” he says.

Preventive measures for drivers
One method drivers can use to control behavior is assigned seating or reseating students who misbehave. In Farr’s experience, requiring students to sit in numbered rows throughout the school year helped with vandalism problems. “I used to encourage drivers to dismiss passengers row by row and inspect the seat as they got off. We probably caught more than half of them,” he says.

He also trained drivers to use positive reinforcement, complimenting students when they behave well. This was effective for all age groups, but particularly for middle school students, who were not impressed by stickers or other incentive programs.

“At that age, they get rebellious, and justice is really important to them,” Farr explains. “They’ll argue and use all these deflection techniques. The driver has to rise above that and say, ‘No, this is not a dialogue, I’m telling you what’s going to happen.’”

Drivers have to become masters of keeping their cool and keeping the conversation from escalating, Farr says. “You tell them, ‘If you don’t sit down, you’ll have to sit in the front part of the bus, next to me.’ Generally, when they’re up front, the driver can see them better and can compliment them when they do something well. If reseating them doesn’t work, then you escalate the punishment,” he says.

Seat belts effect behavior changes
Operations that have installed seat belts on buses report a positive impact on discipline issues. For the past several years, Palmdale (Calif.) School District has been using lap-shoulder belt seating from SafeGuard. Transportation Director Sherilyn Thacker says benefits of belted seating include faster loading, lower noise level and significantly reduced discipline issues. “When we did our pilot back in 2001, we put the lap-shoulder belted seats on a bus with one of our best drivers,” she recalls. “Jayne was almost at the point of quitting because the kids wouldn’t behave. After she got the bus with lap-shoulder belts, she wasn’t having discipline issues any more. And she stayed.”

Transportation Director Clifton Guillory at Beaumont (Texas) Independent School District experienced a similar response on buses equipped with belted seats. “The discipline issues are on the unbelted buses,” Guillory says. “I have not been called into even one discipline situation on the buses equipped with seat belts. Students aren’t moving around, and that makes a difference.”

Executive Director of Transportation Liz McGowan says that flexible belted seating on a Cumberland County Schools bus in Fayetteville, N.C., has resulted in strong positive feedback from parents, transportation officials and drivers. “The bus driver, Mr. Newsome, has seen a dramatic improvement in behavior on the bus,” she says. The district has taken a hard line on seat belt usage. “Either they comply, or they don’t ride,” McGowan says. “We’ve seen behavior is a lot better because students are forced to sit forward and talk to the people sitting beside them, rather than moving around in their seats and switching seats.”

Smile, you’re on camera
Video surveillance can also lead to better behavior, or at least protect the driver in case of a false accusation from a student. Recorded footage of school bus passengers can also provide evidence to be used in convincing parents that their student is causing problems on the bus. “A parent would really melt when you show the child cutting a seat or pulling hair,” Farr says. If vandalism occurs in a bus, video can also confirm which student to punish and which parents to charge for the cost of repairing the damage.

“We’re careful to respect the other kids’ privacy, so we’ll just go to a couple frames where their child was involved with something,” Farr explains. “We didn’t set up audio, and we did have a sticker on the front of the bus that said that one of the conditions of riding the bus in our school district is that you might be taped, so there was no problem with privacy.”

 


WHEELS program deters bullying on the bus


Missouri school bus drivers are receiving tools to establish a safe bus environment and deter bullying through WHEELS — a program that bridges the gap between bus drivers and schools.

The program is part of a state-funded character education project, facilitated by CHARACTERplus, that involves school, home and the community. WHEELS was developed by Gina Crump, state project facilitator for the southwest region.

“I started writing the WHEELS program to support kids and the issues they face on the bus, but I realized that drivers need just as much support,” Crump says. “Teachers participate in staff development all the time, but sometimes bus drivers don’t get those opportunities, so I’m [giving] them opportunities to learn from one another because everyone needs to work together to reach kids.”

WHEELS promotes good character on the school bus through components that enforce Crump’s view of the bus as an extension of the school day.

“The objective is to link everything to learning to show students that there are the same expectations on the bus as in the classroom,” she explains.

The program’s components comprise adult role modeling; learning how to connect with students, parents and the community; and implementing “Bus Buddies” or a “Bus Task Force,” among others.

With Bus Buddies, older students are paired with younger students to make certain that they behave respectfully. A Bus Task Force is a committee of students and/or a committee of parents, bus drivers and school officials that brainstorms solutions to bus-based problems, ensuring that the driver isn’t alone in tackling difficult issues.

There are numerous ways for drivers to build relationships with their students. Greeting students by name and making eye contact is one approach Crump discusses in the program. “One driver mentioned that she has an ‘American Idol’ contest each day,” Crump adds. “Many students want to sing, and it builds morale on the bus.”

Drivers can also connect with parents by attending students’ extracurricular activities, if they are invited. This enables parents to interact with drivers in a different setting.

Crump noted that WHEELS is most effective when as many transportation officials as possible participate in the training. Such was the case when Crump led a WHEELS session for Missouri Association for Pupil Transportation conference attendees in July. She concluded the session with a lesson on school bus bullying — what it looks and sounds like, and ways to intervene if a problem arises.

“We had transportation directors, drivers, driver trainers and a school board member in the audience,” Crump says. “The discussion was invaluable.”

Those who are interested in learning more about WHEELS may contact Crump at (417) 861-5769 or crumpg@centurytel.net.

— KELLY ROHER


Reacting in the moment


James Kraemer, manager of www.2safeschools.org, recommends that when a bus driver encounters an unruly student, he or she should follow the prescribed steps as set out by the transportation department’s discipline policy. Persistence from the student should result in a call to dispatch explaining that students are not following directions and may have to be returned to school.

“This approach, based on my experience, virtually ended the necessity to return an unruly child to the school,” Kraemer says. “The unruly child is usually adequately self-restrained long enough to complete the route. Any potential escalation from the group eases away quickly, as the focus becomes nearly exclusive to the misbehavior. When that is resolved, interest in an escalation is contained.”

 


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my sis works for the school bus up north.she rides the back of the bus to manage the children of course sometimes it is not easy because they are disabled children.i would like to do that in citrus county.does the key center offer that position?

ddistazio    |    Nov 07, 2014 10:26 AM

I have been driving a school bus for the past few months. At first I was a substitute driver and now I have an assigned route. The driver before me did not believe in seat assignments so I had my work cut out for me when I took over. One month later, now, and the kids are still resisting my instructions to the point of me having to do write-ups - a three warning process. I am a calm person, with a light hearted personality. The kids like me, but ignore me. It is the oddest thing. I have been very kind to them by buying coloring books, crayons, water/battery-less toys, books, stuffed animals.... all to keep them occupied for their bus ride. Now that half the toys etc are either destroyed or have been tossed out the window, I am at my wits end. I have been in touch with the school aide and she has threatened the kids and that scare lasted one day. My next step is to engage the aide to ride my afternoon bus route and deal with the kids for me. I feel so weak and powerless. I have never had children respond with such disrespect and total unconcern. I have been firm, I have stopped the bus, I have spoken loudly over the intercom....and even written them up.... to no avail. I will admit that the writeups may not have been processed quite yet so there is no impact on the students at the point. Anyway, I am totally frustrated. I love driving the bus, I love many of the kids, but the bad kids are driving me right out of the business, quickly. Thanks for listening. By the way, I blame the parents for not rearing their children properly. I never behaved poorly on a bus for fear my parents would kill me when I got home..... you know, a spanking... god forbid.

Prue    |    May 03, 2014 06:30 PM

The company that I work for only provide transportant to private school and the kids are good only about 80% of the time, but the language is unbelievable and complaining to the company or the parents gets you nowhere. I was removed from my route by the owner because I complained and they did not want to deal with the problem and the parents. It everywhere parents expect us to raised, drive and protect their children all at the same time without realizing the inventation on their part is 90% of the solution.

Anne    |    Nov 21, 2013 06:00 AM

Oh sure lets get into a regular routine where the bus driver calls the child's parents over on-bus discipline issues. With the sort of kidds we are obliged to transport nowadays, that may mean about 8 to 10 hours per month. Any word from the contractors running bus service that they will pay an hourly rate for that? Hell where I work they will not even cover the cost of Windex and paper towels to clean and keep clean the windows. Leave discipline issues with the teachers. They make big bucks enough to handle it.

BeeBopEh    |    Oct 29, 2013 02:24 PM

I am a monitor on the bus and my kids will not listen to me, I wrote them up, I pulled the bus over until they were suppose to do want I asked them to do. We even got the school involved and the kids do not care. They don't care if they get punished so how can I get help to take control of my bus. My bus driver and I feel we are losing

Melissa aschan    |    Oct 03, 2013 03:26 PM

Are bus drivers allowed to make the children do their job for them? Not the driving part obvisley but things like putting the windows up and sweeping the bus. This question might sound very simple-minded but I couldent find any other words. The reason why I ask this is because my daughter was held on the bus to school because she 'left' her window down along with other students and were forced to sweep the bus and crossed the seatbelts before the bell rings. But she claims that she put the window up and I do believe her. My other dughter who sits behind her got off the bus today when my daughter was absent and said that her window was down AGAIN and NOBODY was sitting there. She also used profanity on a kindergartener for standing up to say hi to someone when the bus was stopped. Please reply as soon as anyone can it will be greatly appreciated.

question    |    Mar 21, 2013 04:26 PM

I am a school bus driver that is frustrated with the children not following the rules. Yes it would help if the teachers and other staff helped. But unfortunately I am the only adult with 50-70 children and I am driving. We need to make laws that there needs to be a bus aid on the bus. I can't handle a child anywhere on the bus when I am driving. Can only do one thing at once. It is a challenging job and I hope parents read this and visit with their children that to follow the rules on the bus is very important for their safety. If all kids followed the rules, the ride would be easier for them and the driver. We do need a lot of help and training on this subject! I agree with the "captian" statement that was mentioned earlier. If there is no authority, there is caios!!

Dana    |    Mar 14, 2013 07:43 AM

Kids today Know that they can get by with acting up on the bus.Because parents don't follow thur with punishment ..Bus driver can't go home with the student & take away there Xbox's & Ninetendos. & Tv. I think Bus Driver need more training on how to handle 60-86 kids at once..I live in Indiana we don't have seat belts on general ed buses.. It would make my life so much easier if they did..

Brenda    |    Feb 07, 2013 08:57 AM

i feel bus drivers do have their hands full, i am currently dealing with my child being removed from the bus for supposed bad behavior, sad part is he is a special needs child and very small for his grade, he is constantly bullied on the bus, he has came home with bruises from being hit while on the bus, all of the bullying and beatings take place on the bus, its funny tho how my son comes home hurt and scared, yet he is targeted by the driver as the cause of the issues on the bus, tho there is no bullying at school only on the bus, im sorry but the safety of my child IS the responsibility of the driver, who else is there? i have researched alot of articles, some bus companies accept the responsibility and set programs in place to educate drivers on how to take control and engage the students and have great results, while others, well bout 90% of what i have researched shift blame to the parents or the schools and say "hey, i have to drive the bus" sorry Mr. Bus driver, but my child is on YOUR bus, it IS your responsibility to keep our children safe from other students. rules will only work if they are rules that apply to all children not just a few. if your the Captain of the bus, well the captain must take control of his crew, or its mutiny. get real, bus companies need to be held accountable for bullying on their bus, just like schools have too, after all, without the kids and schools, you would not be a school bus driver.

jeff h    |    Feb 06, 2013 11:17 PM

Why is the bus driver the focus on this problem.The drivers responsibility is to take kids to and from school in a safe and timely manor.The driver cannot dicipline children when performing his job. The teachers and parents have to take charge to control the problems.Children are made to behave in the classroom, why not the school bus.Example: No talking in class,and no talking on bus. That will solve bullying issues right off the bat. Let the drivers do what they are paid to do. (Drive the Bus)

fred s    |    Jan 11, 2013 07:14 PM

yea i have a problem with bus aids they should watch the kids not move them from sitting with there freinds this how they interact with kids not interact with bus aids and this has been happing for a while i dont care what the child has done keep the child in their sits don't make a permanent with the bus aid i have a child who thinks he should be around adults and he is 18 year old and have a problem being around teens SO BUS AIDS WATCH THE KIDS DON'T BE THEIR PARENT PLEASE YOU ARE MAKING OUR JOB WORST

d grove    |    Jun 17, 2012 07:45 PM

Awesome information. Many of the things suggested are what I have been doing for several years now on my bus routes, and they do work. Will be taken several of these suggestions and complining them into a statewide and future nationwide training for school bus drivers.

James    |    Apr 02, 2012 01:23 PM

I am A bus Driver we need a AID on the bus were the Aid can see whats going on were the driver do not have to stop the bus an pay more tenchen on the driving

Busdriver    |    Feb 21, 2012 09:06 AM

I have been a bus driver for 28 years. And things have certainley changed. Drivers should be able to be the captain of their bus, they are responsible for the safety of people and machinery and the school system should have their backs. A great deal of success has to do with management. But thats not the case anymore where I work. There are so many good stories on here of professionalism and success. My hats off to you people. And for the parent complaining about searches, I had a 10 year old who was bringing a 6-8 inch double bladed knife to school, and no one knew, until he showed it to me. I think all kids should be searched. Just because your kid is one of the good ones ( you hope) doesnt mean the kid seating next to him is. Kids today are different. We have gang problems and drugs and more weapons being brought to school. They are not trying to take rights away from your kids, but save them from the few bad seeds out there. It only takes one kid to go off. Keep up the good work fellow bus drivers.

kathleen    |    Feb 17, 2012 05:52 PM

Respect has to work both ways. A course in people management goes a long way in maintaining a positive environment and developing a rapport with your passengers. It worked for me for over 35 years. I didn't have to be Captain of The Bus to maintain discipline.

Daniel    |    Dec 11, 2011 05:06 PM

I like these great ideas. Video Survillance is required by law beacuse of immature people and this could happen to anyone. Vandalism is illegal and it can cause a crime. Follow all of the rules and behave well on the bus. I always follow the rules on the bus. Younger kids are so bad on the bus. High school kids are fine depending on the student. All bus drivers should be trained how to teach kids the right way to handle these situations on the bus at all times. We all need to cooperate with the driver. I always do great with behavior on the bus in these days because I am mature most of the time. I do like to chat with the driver as long as it's not negative. I always like to stay with the positive. In all states, kids need to be taught by tons of policies on the bus. If they are behaving bad, the driver should call the parent or guardian back.

theredone95    |    Apr 09, 2011 10:09 AM

the reason they are having all these organazations is because a large portion of parents can control their children.... Back when my mom was in school(mainly elementary school) she rode the bus and the bus driver didnt say nothing to the children, no little conversation no nothing, just drove them back and forth to school and that was it, the only time she said anything was when a kid was acting up and all she said was " if you keep acting like this i WILL pull this bus over" and the child listened, children were disciplined, unlike nowadays were evreyone wants evreyone else to fell sorry for us and we are to lazy to raise our own children so the school has to do it...just saying it like it is

Leeann    |    Mar 29, 2011 09:03 PM

Some of us welcome parent complaints for discussion, be the complaint valid or not. Not aware of any school district promoting searches when boarding a school bus as yet, but the direction things are going can expect that to eventually evolve in some fashion. When a child myself my bus driver had me sit in the stairwell for acting up on the bus. He was a huge no nonsense sort of fellow. A few days later I cut a pigtail off a girl's head. That driver stopped the bus, booted me out the bus door and my books followed. At school I got the paddle and at home no desert, and no defending my misactivities. The driver kicked me off the bus for two weeks, not a harsh word concerning that driver from my parents. Only questions about MY malbehavior on the bus. I listened to that driver's directions after that tour of discipline. Not saying this approach fits these days. I am saying that unruly children ought be removed from the bus at school and without delay and not allowed back on board until the malbehavior is fully resolved. Give warnings, take notes, write tickets, have meetings but get the persistent child off the bus until the misbehavior is fully corrected, over and done with on the first or second occurrence, not days or weeks or months down the road unresolved.

jkraemer    |    Jan 07, 2011 01:35 PM

I am a School bus Driver/Trainer in Citrus County Florida,and have been with the School Bus Driving system for about 12 years now. We have a 4 step referal system. 1.Verbal 2. Phone call to parent from Driver 3. Written (Form)letter home to parent 4. Administrative. The first 3 are handled and documented by Transportation. The 4th goes to the school for a consequence. It may be an in school suspension or an out of school suspension. This has worked very well for us. Our county started getting busses with seat-belts in 2001. This was a MAJOR improvement with discipline. More with Primary children than with Middle or High School. We have only the lap belts so you can't see if the students are wearing them or not. Also with the lap belt only the children fully extend them and still turn around. Lap/shoulder belts would prevent this.

Jody Gaskins    |    Jan 06, 2011 01:21 PM

I view this issue a much bigger problem involving the adults than does it does involving unruly children on the school buses. Where the bus driver is not respected by staff or parents as the captain of his or her bus, then please explain where is the surprise that kids mimic that disrespect toward each other and their driver? Stop bullying and other violence (See Post # 14: http://www.schoolbusfleet.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=20089

jkraemer    |    Jan 05, 2011 12:06 PM

Are these complaints valid or just your childs side of the story? As far as the Silly Bandz ban, it was probably causing a problem on the bus with kids taking them from each other and the driver nipped it in the bud. And in a confined bus, it doesn't matter where the windows are open, everyone gets to enjoy that fresh air, some more than others. Perhaps a lot of the boys were throwing things out the window? It seems to be in some peoples nature to assume that their child would never lie in regards to a bus ride. Newsflash for you, kids will lie to get out of trouble. It's just the way it is.

Greg    |    Dec 17, 2010 11:41 AM

The two parents below with concerns about what is happening on the school buses in their districts need to contact their transportation offices, not complain on an internet forum. It won't do any good here.

Ang    |    Oct 14, 2010 04:18 PM

Basically in the interest of public safety of the children on board school buses, you have to side with written school board policy. School policy is considered State Law in written statutes. Thus is defendable in courts. Now back to the drivers. They are exactly the same as a Captain of a ship, Captain of an Airliner, they are ultimately responsible for every single person's life on board the school bus. One major accident and people can be and are killed on board mass transit vehicles. If a transportation organization is lacking on proper training then that is a local issue. Take your complaints to the Superintendent and school boards. Bus drivers should be trained to follow proper school board policies. When they do then issues can be addressed through follow up processing of conduct reports per student issue. If your school board has approved bus drivers conducting searches then there is a real need for them to be doing so. If it is NOT a school board approved procedure then take your complaint to the Superintendent and school board for answers. Some school districts are asking law enforcement to provide officers to ride on board some routes. They conduct sting operations to catch motorist running stop arms at specific locations. They also deter drug/gang activity on board buses with this type of issue. So as a responsible parent, as I am sure all on here are, you would welcome the school system taking extra precautions when it comes to transporting your children to and from school. Yes, responsible parents should listen to their children when they come home or call on their cell phones that there is trouble on board their school bus. Call the Superintendent immediately assured they are capable of handling the situation then and there. Be involved yet verify the issues are what the kids say they are. Some people try to do their jobs and may just be going outside the scope of school board policies. You can visit any school administration building and read school

Dan Luttrell    |    Jul 22, 2010 12:46 PM

When did it become right for bus drivers to search our children every day as they enter onto the bus, pulling sleeves up for the bus driver to see bare arms? Where are our childrens rights? And I mean she searches every child as they enter on to the bus, my son refused and she pointed to the door? What gives them, as bus drivers, the right to search like that?????? And this is over the bus driver BANNING SILLY BANDZ, not a school ban, just one particular bus driver...And to use her authority for discipline to cut the ac off and tell only girls they can put windows down not boys? Concerned Parent

Teri    |    May 31, 2010 02:58 PM

When is it safe to let a child sit on the steps at the door on a School Bus? Also when is it ok for a bus Attendent to call a special needs child a mental retard ? Also when did Transportation STOP investigating complaints from Parents ? Why aren't there Camaras on Special Needs Bus in Maryland? Single Mom in Maryland.

mdnana    |    Jan 21, 2010 10:02 AM

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