Bus and school policies should align
It is imperative that student safety and discipline policies extend from the classroom to the school bus, Brooks says.
“Drivers should follow the school procedures and policies that they have in place,” he explains. “That groundwork that’s been laid needs to be followed.”
If students hear consistent policies about their behavior, they are more likely to adhere to them, Boardman says.
“It’s important that there are some consistent rules that are fair, reasonable and enforceable. On a bus, they should align with school rules and school policies,” he says. “You need to have them in handbooks. You need to have parents know, students know, and then you need to consistently enforce them, because … this may be a rule one day, it may not be a rule the next day. And if it’s not consistent, as a person riding the bus, I don’t know what the rules are.”
“All the legal rules that the school district has in place for school staff would apply to transportation staff,” Boardman adds.
Work with your contractors
“Even if the bus service is contracted, the parent and student dealing with [the drivers] … assume [the drivers] are an extension of what happens at the school,” Boardman says.
If your district employs an outside contractor to handle its bus service, discipline policies may not line up. To solve this problem, Boardman suggests that district officials specify what policies they would like followed when they put the transportation contract out for bid.
“If you put those pieces in your specifications for the bus contract, the bus companies will think it’s a pretty good idea — because they want that contract,” Boardman says.
He also urges districts to include the contractor in relevant meetings. “If they’re not expected to come to meetings, if they’re treated as an outside group, they’ll be an outside group.”
“It comes down to first and foremost hiring a well-qualified bus company and knowing what procedures that company lives by,” Burns says, “and providing sufficient information to the contractor; no less information than you would give if you had your own fleet.”
If the district cultivates a good relationship with the contractor, drivers will feel comfortable reporting incidents directly to school officials — which will increase overall safety, Beauchea points out.
Training is vital
“Sending drivers through consistent training is a must,” Brooks says.
If bus drivers do not receive the proper training, students could be put at risk and a district could be open to liability.
“If you gave teachers a class of 60 kids and said, ‘Now turn your back and manage their behavior; teach them math through a mirror’ — oh, by the way, while driving a $100,000 vehicle — the teachers would laugh at you. But that’s what drivers do every day,” Boardman explains.
“If they need additional training and skills sets in that area, I believe that onus is on the school,” he adds. “Bus drivers will respond to difficult, challenging and aggressive behaviors, either based on their training or based on the emotions of the moment. And often, their training may be more successful than an off-the-cuff response based on emotion. Everyone is safer when staff react based on their training.”