DES MOINES, Iowa — School bus drivers in Iowa are now required to complete a training program to help protect students from human trafficking.
The state Department of Education began using Busing on the Lookout on Aug. 1. The training program provides both new and current school bus drivers with the necessary skills to identify and effectively report cases of student trafficking.
Drivers are given a training manual that outlines red flags to look for in students, a 32-minute educational video, and wallet cards to carry. Upon completion of the training, drivers are granted program certification.
Max Christensen, an executive officer for school transportation at the Iowa Department of Education, said in an interview that the state was first introduced to the program at the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association’s 55th Annual Transportation Conference and Trade Show in July. Transportation directors from more than 160 of the state’s school districts attended the conference and agreed on the program’s benefit, he added.
“You don’t know where it’s happening or when it’s going to happen,” Christensen said about human trafficking. "It can happen in the largest city; it can happen in the smallest town. By making sure that every school bus driver in the state has it [the training], we’re certainly doing our part to curb human trafficking and hopefully prevent it from happening in Iowa.”
The Busing on the Lookout program is led by Truckers Against Trafficking, an organization dedicated to educating and mobilizing members of the trucking and busing industries. The program was started by the organization as an extension of its larger, already-established projects encouraging more transportation professionals to respond to human trafficking, according to the Busing on the Lookout website.
Human traffickers often recruit out of schools, and some children may attend school during the day even while they are being trafficked at night, according to the organization’s website.
Christensen added that another benefit of the training is that bus drivers will know what to look for wherever they are, even when they aren't driving a bus.
"If they see something odd at a shopping mall, truck stop, or a rest area, or wherever, they may be able to see it and report it," he said. "This training will be beneficial in more areas than just the school transportation arena."
So far, 1,000 school bus drivers in Iowa have completed Busing on the Lookout training, Christensen said. By June 2019, the state expects to have all 9,000 of its drivers trained.
For more details and to register for the program, go here.