There's a good reason for keeping the topic of bullying on the school bus community's radar screen - it's a tough one that demands that we try our best to educate ourselves about how to recognize and deter it.
Before putting fingers to keyboard, I decided to ask friends and family to give me their thoughts about what could be done in a pupil transportation environment where we must deal with its consequences without the ability to influence the root causes.
Related Article: Tackling School Bus Bullying
Almost all reactions came down to this: We need to have more honest discussions about the genesis of vexing societal problems like bullying, but instead there is a tendency to put most emphasis on rationalizing inexcusable behavior or downplaying it because of political correctness.
One typical comment: "Sometimes horrendous behavior that shows up in a school bus is merely the natural extension of the bad culture, in particular homes with lousy parenting or whole neighborhoods that are dysfunctional. But nobody usually has the guts to take this on directly for fear of offending. So, the heart of the bullying problem never really gets addressed effectively."
There's a sentiment that we mostly talk around serious problems rather than confront them head on, and especially issues involving children. There are too many excuses and rationalizations. This leads to policies of containment and appeasement rather than lasting solutions.
With TV, radio and the Internet, there's more news and it travels faster. Accordingly, there's more exposure to what's happening around us. Many take away from these media inputs evidence of a general lack of respect among some children, and some parents who are indifferent to bad behavior, or tacitly condone it by not cooperating when police and school officials try to take action.
One person summed it up this way: "Here's a novel idea - when bullying occurs on a school bus, jump on it very aggressively, and prosecute if criminal. Period. We all know that schools and school bus operators don't want bad press. But this stuff has to be nipped in the bud and a strong message sent to all children and parents - that this won't be tolerated. Or, you'll just encourage more of it."
More broadly, our culture needs more emphasis on civility. Manners and respect for others - especially others who may speak, look or believe differently - must be taught at home and reinforced in religious settings, sports, news and entertainment outlets, schools, government programs and other traditional societal influencers.
For its part, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) is committed to a leadership role. Last year at its annual conference, as a first step, it held an emotionally charged town hall meeting on bullying and how to prevent it.
In a June 15 national news release, NAPT and the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools (OSDFS) took a collaborative next step, announcing the availability of free professional training for the school bus industry to encourage positive interventions.
NAPT President and professional educator Dr. Linda F. Bluth underscored NAPT's resolve and commitment: "School bus transportation is critical to learning by providing reliable and safe transportation. We want to emphasize [that] what happens inside the bus should not stay inside the bus if it includes behavior that harms children and affects their school day negatively.
"School officials, bus operators and parents in every community must understand that bullying can involve serious psychological and physical harm. All must work diligently to create effective deterrents and responses," Bluth said.
Fortunately, NAPT had a powerful partner in the process. OSDFS Assistant Deputy Secretary Kevin Jennings, a participant at the town hall meeting, was moved by the experience and expressed an interest in working with NAPT to shape a school bus industry response. With the assistance of NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin, he arranged and led a June 8 conference in Washington, D.C., to preview training modules his office developed, with input from NAPT members. The program is titled "Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment on Our Nation's Buses."
Twenty-seven school transportation professionals from across the nation and representatives of the Safe and Supportive Schools Technical Center helped create the curriculum.
Included are two PowerPoint modules complete with trainer's guide, posters and other reference components. The two modules are "See Something. Do Something: Intervening in Bullying Behavior" and "Creating a Supportive Bus Climate: Preventing Bullying."
By now, many school districts are using this important training. All should make it a priority. For copies, visit http://www.naptonline.org/.
This probably won't be the last column about bullying, but only because we want to reinforce that NAPT understands that it's a problem requiring ongoing attention. We owe our customers - the children transported every day - our best efforts and commitment to promoting civility and respect aboard the yellow school bus.
Barry McCahill is communications consultant for NAPT.
Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.