Separating boys and girls on the school bus

Thomas McMahon
Posted on October 7, 2015

Thomas McMahon is executive editor of School Bus Fleet.
Thomas McMahon is executive editor of School Bus Fleet.
As a behavior management and safety practice, some school bus operations use assigned seating, or they separate older students from younger students if they ride on the same bus. But what about separating passengers by gender?

In Atlanta, some high school and middle school boys and girls have been split up on the bus to improve behavior. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, the topic spurred discussion among local parents.

To find out more about this approach to bus behavior, I talked to two Atlanta Public Schools officials: John Franklin, executive director of transportation, and Kimberly Willis Green, media relations manager.

Franklin and Green told me that the district’s school bus drivers are given autonomy to decide how to seat their passengers based on their routes and what they observe from the students. Some drivers have found that managing student behavior is easier when boys and girls are separated.

“The goal here is safety,” Franklin said. “A less distracted driver is more focused on the road.”

Beyond the bus, Green noted that some of the district’s schools have set up voluntary single-gender classrooms. Atlanta Public Schools also has an all-boys academy and an all-girls academy that students can choose to attend.

In fact, a growing number of public schools in the U.S. are offering voluntary single-sex classrooms, although the goal here goes beyond behavior — it’s more about accommodating different learning styles and promoting more diverse academic achievement for both genders.

On the school bus, though, we hadn’t heard much about boys and girls being separated. But after we ran a blog post on the topic recently, we heard from several people in the industry who have used this practice in some form.

North East Independent School District in Texas has separated boys and girls on the bus on an as-needed basis. The San Antonio-based district runs a large operation, with about 300 regular-education and special-needs buses.

“We have used this method where or when needed for years,” said Jack De Forrest, director of transportation at the district. “It works.”

Victoria DeCarlo, a veteran New York school bus driver, recalled a previous assignment in which she drove students to a vocational school outside of her district. The students were unruly, and after observing them for the first three days, DeCarlo identified a solution.

“It actually came down to the decision of separating the genders in this case,” she said. “When they realized this bus driver was taking control over the bus, they became respectful [and] their behavior changed for the better. In time, I rewarded their good behavior by allowing them to rejoin each other, and they behaved respectfully.”

Here are a few other findings:

• Some districts separate boys and girls on sports and activity trips, with one gender sitting in the front of the bus on the departing trip and in the back on the return trip.
• One school district in South Carolina doesn’t allow boys and girls to sit together on the bus unless they are brother and sister.
• Kyle Borger, a school bus driver in Wyoming, said that he assigns seats with boys on one side, girls on the other, younger students up front and older students in the back. “A previous school district had a policy requiring the genders be separated due to an incident,” Borger said. “I continue to follow this policy even though I am at a new district because it provides a safer environment with fewer potential issues.”

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
Comments ( 11 )
  • See all comments
  • Lilyana

     | about 5 months ago

    My bus is discriminating girls and boys by saying girls sit in the front ALWAYS and the boys sit in the back ALWAYS. The preferable seat is the back and our bus driver s not switching us around. My bus driver is showing favorites for boys and I don't think its legal to do so.

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