This summer, I heard the harrowing story of Jaycee Dugard’s life for nearly two decades after she was abducted from a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., in 1991 by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and held captive in the backyard of his home.
This got me thinking about what school districts can do to maximize student safety at bus stops.
Sexual predator awareness is vital
Max Christensen, executive officer of school transportation at the Iowa Department of Education, suggests keeping bus stops away from areas that sexual predators and sex offenders might find inviting. Knowing where they live in relation to where you might place bus stops — which involves having access to a database of sex offenders in your area — is also important.
Dr. Duane Dobbert, a criminal forensics studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, and a fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners, offers a program called “School Bus Drivers: The 1st Line of Defense Against Child Sexual Predators.” In the program, he explains the difference between a sexual predator and a sex offender and discusses what school bus drivers should do if they see a suspicious person at a bus stop or school site.
“Carry a notepad and jot down the day, date, time and information pertaining to the person and his or her vehicle, and turn it in to the transportation director,” Dobbert recommends. “If you are particularly concerned about a situation, call your dispatcher and have him or her call law enforcement.”
(For more information about Dobbert’s program, go here.)
Ensure students can be seen
Walking to bus stops before the sun comes up can be dangerous. In 2009, Timothy Wysong, transportation director at Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas, addressed this by starting the “Be Seen, Be Safe” campaign. Round, flashing 2-inch LED lights were distributed to elementary school students for them to wear on the morning walk to their bus stops.
The campaign is still in place, and Wysong’s operation is now focusing on distributing the lights to students in kindergarten through third grade.
“We feel like they’re at the biggest risk,” he explains. “We’re also adding stop-arm cameras to our buses this year, and we’ve added an LED sign to the back of the buses that gives motorists a warning when our buses are preparing to stop — it changes to ‘Do Not Pass.’”
Establish safe walking routes
Christensen also recommends reviewing the path that kids take to get to and from a bus stop.
“Though legally transportation operators aren’t required to look at how kids get to the bus stop, we really should look at this issue as a matter of public service to help keep our kids safe both before and after they get on or off the school bus,” he says.
In Iowa, many districts work closely with the state’s Safe Routes to School coordinator to establish safe walking routes to school bus stops.
“Another initiative is training our school bus drivers to be aware of the danger zone and potential hazards at every bus stop,” Christensen says. “An added component to our training this year is the inclusion of School Bus First Observer.”