Gerald Summers, director of safety and security for Evansville (Ind.) Vanderburgh School Corp., speaks to a group of students about bullying.
When things turn violent
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to diffuse a situation, violence will erupt. At this point, action must be taken.
Summers says that tactical communication is a great first approach to a potentially violent situation, “however, when it becomes clear the person is not going to respond, or in cases where mutual combatants will not separate or a crowd begins to gather, finding a way to exit the situation and calling for additional help is best,” he says.
CPI’s personal safety training, which has been adapted for both buses and classrooms, provides instruction on how to hold someone safely and not place them at risk.
“A paramount aspect of any of the holds that we do is they should only be used as a last resort when there’s an imminent danger to self or others,” Boardman stresses. “If a fight breaks out, there’s ways of dealing with it without jumping in the middle of it and getting yourself hurt.”
Know where to pull over the bus
“If you’ve got a serious incident on the bus that’s happening, you need to find a safe place to pull the bus off to the side of the road, contact dispatch and let them know what is going on,” Beauchea says. “[Dispatch] can either send someone from dispatch or send someone from the school or, if necessary, 911.”
Where you pull your bus over is important. Boardman suggests that drivers check along their routes for safe places to park the bus — such as grocery store or church parking lots or side roads — as part of their emergency planning.
“This makes it safer so you can attend to the incident as opposed to the driving at the same time,” he says.
Also, the location where you pull over could affect the safety of students.
In a September incident, a Keystone Oaks (Pa.) School District bus driver pulled his bus over at an emergency exit near an onramp because a student was poking holes in bus seats with a stick. When the bus came to a stop, the boy and his friend escaped through the bus’ emergency exit and began wandering through traffic on a busy bridge. Both boys were picked up by a Department of Transportation employee and charged with criminal mischief.
While it’s safer “to pull over, stop the bus and attend to [the discipline issue] in a way that you can command full attention,” according to Boardman, it is imperative that training for this type of situation be provided. “If we don’t give folks training, don’t prepare them, don’t rehearse, don’t practice for physical and emotional safety for everybody, it won’t go so well,” he stresses.
If an angry student demands to be let off the bus, “the answer to that is, not without tremendous vulnerability to liability,” says Peggy Burns, Esq., of Education Compliance Group. “That is not a good answer.”
Be cautious when using restraint
In extreme cases, it might become necessary to physically prevent a student from doing something. But, “almost any time that a student is restrained, it’s very likely to become a legal issue,” Burns says.
Burns strongly suggests that school administrators be familiar with the U.S. Department of Education’s 15 principles for the use of restraint and seclusion that were issued this year (see sidebar here). “They are certainly going to be referred to by an astute attorney who’s looking to make an issue out of the use of restraint on a school bus,” she says.
Burns stresses that there is widespread agreement on the Department of Education principle that restraints should never be used as punishment or discipline.
Boardman also stresses this point. “Although we do teach restraints [in CPI’s Nonviolent Physical Crisis Intervention training], these are only used as a last resort, when a behavior becomes an imminent danger to self or others.”
In many cases, restraint will be used to ensure the safety of a student with special needs who becomes a danger to his or herself and others. In this type of situation, Burns says, documentation, training and parental notification are crucial.
IEPs outline scenarios where restraint is needed
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) mandates the use of Individual Education Programs (IEPs), which describe how a student with a disability learns and how education providers can help the student learn more effectively.
Burns says these IEPs can also help educators make decisions about the use of restraint.
“The kind of legal issue that may arise if a driver or aide has to physically restrain a child is going to be the excessive use of force. There’s going to be claims that there’s been an excessive use of force and violation of his constitutional rights,” Burns explains. “Did the IEP reflect the possible need for physical restraint, and was it done in a way that is consistent with that?”
Under these circumstances, school administrators must make sure that relevant information about each student is communicated to the transportation staff. Sometimes, there is difficultly in this area “from the transporters’ perspective — we’re not getting the information that we need about behavior intervention plans … because there’s a lot of confusing messages out there about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” Beauchea explains (for more information, see “Sharing student information under IDEA").
Burns also says that parents should be informed of school policies that make restraint an option, and that they should be immediately notified if the use of restraint becomes necessary in dealing with their child.