School bus drivers are on the road for the majority of the day and are often the only adult on the bus (unless an aide has been assigned to the bus), with connection to their operation's transportation office limited to communication via a cell phone or a two-way radio.
Given these circumstances, drivers must safely and effectively handle dangerous situations that may occur, such as a student bringing a weapon on a school bus, while waiting for help to arrive.
Specialists in this field offer their expertise to help pupil transportation officials prepare their drivers, discussing everything from the importance of driver awareness to the value of training and emergency response procedures.
Pupil transporters also share the steps they have taken in this arena, detailing their operations' practices, instruction efforts and policies.
1. Encourage driver vigilance
Those involved in providing instruction on weapons incidents say that it is crucial for school bus drivers to remain alert while they are transporting students.
Bret Brooks, a senior instructor for Gray Ram Tactical LLC in Higginsville, Mo., as well as a full-time police officer, SWAT team sniper and a captain in the U.S. Army, says there are previous and immediate indicators that can help drivers determine whether an incident may occur.
"Previous indicators include things like, has a student talked about bringing a gun or another type of weapon to school in the past? Has a student brought a weapon to school before?" Brooks explains. "Immediate indicators include unusual bulges around the waist — that's typically where students will try to hide a weapon."
Brooks also says that if a student has a gun in his or her waistband, the driver will usually see the student continually touching the weapon to make sure it is still there.
"They're mentally uncomfortable with having the weapon, so security checks can be a dead giveaway that they have something that they shouldn't," Brooks explains.
Pupil transportation officials understand the importance of driver vigilance, incorporating discussions on the topic in their in-service meetings.
"We focus on drivers keeping their ears open all the time. Anytime something is reported to a driver, such as a threat from a student to bring a weapon to school, we emphasize that the driver needs to report those incidents immediately," says Gary Thomsen, transportation director for Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash. "We deal with it that day, including making a home visit with school administrators and law enforcement offi cers, if necessary."
Jim Ellis, transportation supervisor for Moravia (N.Y.) Central School District, says that in conjunction with driver awareness, it is essential to establish good relationships with students.
"We discuss the importance of drivers and attendants establishing trustful and positive relationships with their students as a preventive measure so students feel they can report their own suspicion of another student carrying a weapon without fear of it being handled clumsily," Ellis says.
Equipping school buses with surveillance cameras can also aid in monitoring students.
Roosevelt Carter, transportation supervisor for Madison County Schools in Huntsville, Ala., has cameras installed on 85 percent of his buses, and he believes the cameras have helped deter students from bringing weapons on the buses.
"We also ask that the drivers survey the back of the bus through the rearview mirror," Carter says. "If the driver suspects that something is going on that shouldn't be, we'll pull the tape and review it."