It’s an important cultural tradition: On the anniversaries of the death or birthday of famous Americans, we pause to remember and honor their contributions to the country.
No disrespect intended, but these designations almost always are for political figures. We seldom take time to remember the contributions of people who weren’t famous but nonetheless made a difference.
It falls to the people and industries that knew these “everyday” heroes to remember them and their contributions, and to make sure that lessons learned from them are practiced.
Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr. is not a household name in the U.S. His birthday is just another day to most Americans. Schools are not closed each year to honor him, even though he made a substantial sacrifice on behalf of schoolchildren.
Chuck was a school bus driver. Not just any school bus driver, but the one who put his life on the line to protect his passengers when a deranged and armed man commandeered his bus last year.
Remember him now? The date was Jan. 29, 2013, and now, a little more than a year after he was slain on the job, we should all continue to honor his memory, his dedication to the children entrusted to him, and his exceptional heroism.
It all happened very fast, and Chuck acted with gut instinct. He refused the demands of the armed man who wanted to take children from his bus. Chuck was between the man and the children, and he was killed in a hail of bullets.
After killing Chuck, the man was able to kidnap one child, seated behind the driver’s seat. In what then became a big national news story, the terrified 5-year old boy was held hostage for six days in an underground bunker filled with explosives. The standoff ended when police breached the bunker and killed the murderer/kidnapper.
In an obituary, friends and colleagues remembered Chuck as “a brave hero who did not flinch in the face of adversity … saving the lives of children he loved.”
The death of Chuck Poland and kidnapping of a child from a school bus came a month after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. NAPT was already hard at work evaluating existing industry security measures and participating in new national efforts to make schools — and school buses — safer and more secure.
Indeed, Charles Poland’s death was a stark reminder that in crafting solutions, communities must include not just school buildings but also the yellow buses that are the bookends of the school day.
On the anniversary of Mr. Poland’s untimely death, NAPT can report that enhancing student and driver security is a continuing front-burner concern. Dating back to our responses to the terrorism of 9/11, we have reached out to law enforcement, federal and local school officials, and private organizations to share our ideas and learn theirs.
Security training is an important part of our organizational activities and communications to members, and it will continue to be. We are again going to have a prominent focus on school bus safety and security at our annual Summit this fall in Kansas City, Mo.
While we work the national levers of information and influence, we are urging our members to do the same locally. There are many efforts underway across the nation tailored to local circumstances.
For example, Alabama passed the “Charles ‘Chuck’ Poland Jr. Act,” making trespass on a school bus a crime punishable by up to a year in jail.
The New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) is supporting legislation that would make it a crime of criminal trespass to board a school bus without permission of the school district. It would also establish new crime designations for assaulting or killing a school bus driver.
NYAPT is also calling for improved school bus security by means of fencing of bus lots, lighting and camera systems, and additional protection for drivers and other personnel. They are also sharing ideas with school boards, superintendents and state police on measures that could protect school buses, drivers and children, as well as developing threat assessments and risk management strategies.
NAPT is pledged to honor the memory of Charles Poland by ensuring that the flame of enhanced security and awareness stays lit. There is no finish line in this effort.
It’s who we are and what we do, and honoring Chuck’s heroic memory demands no less.
Barry McCahill is president of McCahill Communications Inc. and NAPT public affairs consultant.
Mike Martin is executive director of NAPT.