J2 Content – Perspectives

A varied collection of thoughts on education and parenting

School Bus: The Final Frontier

The school bus is an icon of education. From the standard yellow to the trippy buses of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem and the Partridge Family, the school bus has been one of the most standard and recognizable parts of going to school.

Young kids marvel at the flat front buses, wondering if their distrct will ever upgrade from the common dog-nosed models. High School students balk at taking the bus, but brainstorm renting a bus in lieu of a limo for proms and post-graduation parties. In some districts, the band will have its own bus – proudly painted in the school colors and ready to follow the football team or take the band to one of its competitions.

Unfortunately, the bus is one of the most undisciplined and poorly regulated areas where you will send your children. Bad things happen on the bus… from vandalism, cheating, smoking and drug dealing, and as significant as any of these – bullying.

The school bus drivers are effectively powerless. They see the children for a maximum of a hour a day and have no power to penalize other than with a detention referral. They cannot ban a student from the bus – those decisions must go through multiple channels and will likely be overturned on appeal. They are asked to shuttle the students, and cannot multitask safely to discipline students and manage their behavior in 40 rows of high backed seats. Understandably (but regrettably), many of them choose to go the “be my friend” route. Some are parents from within the district, and come to the position already with familiarity both on their side and working against them. They try to manage the bus with a “help me out” attitude, using tattle tales and reports from students they consider “good” and trustworthy (often having been duped). And so the lawlessness runs rampant.

It begins at the bus stops. Bus stops are determined by the school districts. The locations may be “public”, such as a street corner, but even those are in front of someone’s home. There is an implied “your in charge” policy for the nearest adult and/or household, whether they want it or not. Most do not, and again… familiarity leads to “come on guys, help me out and be good, okay?” which leads to the better known, more confident kids running the show. The inmates running the asylum, so to speak.

Most schools claim to have no authority. The kids are out of the building, there’s not much they can do. Have you spoken to the bus driver? But in reality, they are the ONLY ones who have power in this situation.

What happens on the school bus is thier responsiblity, and their jurisdictional arguments are inappropriate. If they have passed of safety and discipline matters to the transportation service, then they must also empower that service to enforce the rules.

My child hates riding the school bus. This is largely because she has been a victim of the aggressive misconduct of other students. Every year I convince her to give it another chance, with the encouragement that this might the be year things are different. Every year, I spend three months going through channels, documenting incidents, pleading for changes to make her feel safe. Every year, by the time the first cards are sent home, I am driving her to and from school several times a week.

I call upon the administrators of all school districts to put some bite behind your behvioral policies and anti-bullying stances. You send home dozens of pamphlets, have links on your websites, say all the right things, but then refuse to make meaningful interventions on the misconduct of students.

SOMEONE poked pencil holes in that seat on the bus. SOMEONE drew a swastika. SOMEONE blew spitwads at that boy, made that girl in the second to last row cry, spilled Gatorade, copied homework, threw paper out the bus window. NO ONE was disciplined for it – and so it goes on.

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