For those involved in transporting students, bullying is an issue that's always on the radar screen. But over the past several months, it has taken on increased attention in the school bus industry, the education community
in general and beyond.
State and national pupil transportation groups have been addressing bullying in recent conferences, training sessions and publications.
In February, an Oregon Pupil Transportation Association chapter held a workshop that featured a mock bullying/hostage exercise on a bus with a SWAT team responding.
The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) held a panel discussion on bullying at its conference last fall and issued a white paper, which can be downloaded at Schoolbusfleet.com under "White Papers."
Further highlighting the urgency of the topic, the Obama administration in March held the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. About 150 students, parents, teachers, advocates and policymakers came together to discuss how to make schools and communities safer for all students.
"If there's one goal of this conference, it's to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It's not," President Obama said. "Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it's not something we have to accept."
The White House cited estimates that nearly one-third of all school-age children are bullied each year — upwards of 13 million students.
Free training coming
One Obama administration official, Kevin Jennings of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), has been reaching out to the school transportation community to promote anti-bullying efforts.
Jennings, who serves as assistant deputy secretary at the DOE's Office of Safe & Drug-Free Schools, spoke at the NAPT conference in Portland, Ore., last fall and again at the Transporting Students With Disabilities and Preschoolers conference in Kansas City, Mo., in March.
A particularly noteworthy part of Jennings' presentation in Kansas City was his announcement that the DOE will offer a free training program to help school bus drivers deal with bullying. The program is expected to be released in July.
Jennings said that when he spoke at the NAPT conference, he was told that many school bus drivers feel that they haven't had enough training in the area of bullying. That notion was also pointed out in a survey by the National Education Association (NEA).
"There's an obvious gap that we can fill," Jennings said.
He also cited NEA statistics indicating that the school bus is the No. 3 location where students are bullied, with No. 1 being inside the school building and No. 2 being outside of the school.
Cutting down on bus bullying will help in the goal of bringing students to school ready to learn, and it will allow the driver to stay more focused on driving safely.
Kudos to Jennings and the DOE for listening to pupil transporters' request - and responding to it.