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November 05, 2013  |   Comments (6)   |   Post a comment

School bus fights: how drivers can intervene

Intervention doesn’t have to mean using physical force. Calling dispatch for help, stopping and securing the bus, and giving orders to the students are key steps in responding. 

by Jesus Villahermosa Jr.


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iStock image © hjalmeida

iStock image © hjalmeida

On July 9, 2013, John Moody did not know that his name and the bus he was driving would become the focus of this nation on the issue of whether a school bus driver has to break up a fight on the bus.

I have taught thousands of bus drivers around the U.S., and whenever I train on the issue of defensible use of force on the bus, it’s amazing to me that every single driver in the audience stays engaged in the training.

The longtime drivers ask questions that have been on their minds for years. The new drivers ask questions that they are afraid to ask their supervisors in fear that they will be told not to worry about it — or the infamous “You can’t lay a hand on a child on your bus” response.

In my more than 32 years in the law enforcement field and more than 27 years of private consulting, I have found that the training bus drivers receive is definitely not “reality based” for crisis response situations.

One example I can offer to make this point was when I provided some training for a client and the client’s 91 bus drivers. I decided to take all of the drivers who received my initial training out on the road on three different buses, where each driver was going to have to demonstrate the proper procedures for what to do if a fight broke out on their bus.

Even though during the training every bus driver was able to speak the steps out correctly, we discovered that when it came time for them to actually perform these procedures while I was on their bus with a stopwatch yelling out “Fight!”, every driver failed to complete all of the required steps under that simulated stress situation while the bus was in motion.

You see, there is training, and then there is reality training. Unfortunately, the aforementioned Gulfport, Fla., incident — and, earlier this year, the Alabama hostage situation in which school bus driver Charles Poland was killed by a gunman who took a 5-year-old student hostage — has given national pupil transportation supervisors and drivers what I refer to as a “reality awakening.”

Let me be clear that this is no fault of transportation organizations. We live in a reactive society where, if you bring up crisis before it occurs, you are considered paranoid or overthinking situations. In many cases, no training was ever considered in this arena for bus drivers even though the drivers themselves would tell you that they have been dealing with progressively more serious violent incidents on their buses for many years now.

I have always believed that if you want to know about how someone feels about their safety in their job, you should ask them and not the people they work for. Performing a climate survey of your drivers is very important.

What I will shed light on in this article is the infamous question all bus drivers ask when they start: “Do I have to physically intervene if someone is fighting on my bus?”

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Read more about: student violence

Thank you for your excellent presentation to the Mid Columbia Bus group this morning! Someone took my survey during lunch, so I did not have a chance to finish it and to turn it in. I am a mother of 5 and a former volunteer firefighter who witnessed a lot of tragedy. Your interactive, upbeat, and energetic presentation gave all of us a lot of useful information! Thank you so very much, I hope that MidCo brings you back again next year!

Anita Marcoff    |    Aug 12, 2014 08:06 PM

"... the training bus drivers receive is definitely not “reality based” for crisis response situations," is one of many accurate statements in this must read article. Villahermosa is of the very few state funded presenters, of over 20-years attending state training in my state, that seemed to have an actual awareness of the school bus environment. "Practice does not make perfect ... perfect practice makes perfect," is a knowledge among law enforcement that seems never to have been actualized at most school bus driver training, most especially in the area of student management. Villahermosa's training is beyond our industry's capabilities, except where school bus drivers have overcome their fear of termination in the event any parent or school administrator complains. The bus driver's actions can be perfect, can right for the situation, can be lawful, and that perfect school bus driver can still be terminated by management and/or the school board. Villahermosa's training is astonishingly real, any school bus driver applying his training probably ought not be working for a hostile employer. The sad reality is that it takes only a few complaints from the hostile for some management styles to water-down Villahermosa's precision training to the typical ineffective training that school boards cater. One reality "DO," is to first find an employer that actually and effectively helps keep both children and the bus driver safe. Helps insure that Villahermosa's training has the greatest impact when helping keep kids safe, and without the bus driver used as a scapegoat when hostile complain.

jkraemer    |    Nov 12, 2013 12:06 PM

I am the coordinator of drivres training and certification for the School District of Philadelphia. We here in Pennsylvania follow pub 117 which is School Bus Driver's Mamual and it said we are not allow to touch the student. So the quetion is what do you when a fight happen on your bus?

craig poles    |    Nov 12, 2013 06:27 AM

Excellent, excellent article. My congratulations to Mr. Villahermosa. It is a well thought out and well written article. This is exactly what I teach my employees and my district endorses. Pull over to the side of the road in a safe location, contact dispatch – identify your location and request police and, if necessary, fire rescue, tell the students to stop fighting and let them know that there will be referrals/consequwnces if they don't stop now, make sure the other students are safe and keep yourself safe. Keeping yourself safe is the number one priority - if you are hurt, you cannot help anybody else.

Randy Mazie    |    Nov 07, 2013 11:38 AM

This article warrants attention. Good details. Good information to help ask questions. Thank you!

Anonymous    |    Nov 06, 2013 10:23 AM

Did I over think the point of this article? I was looking for do's and don'ts!

Terry    |    Nov 06, 2013 08:13 AM

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