9 Ways to Stop School Bus Bullying

Although 10% of all bullying occurs on school buses, a survey found that 55% of drivers are very minimally included, if at all, in developing bullying policies.
Published: June 3, 2019

As administrators and teachers continue to work to create a more positive environment in the classroom, some are failing to address the often-hostile environment of school buses.

There are several key factors that play a role in school bus bullying. In addition to a lack of supervision, buses create power imbalances as they bring together children of different ages, according to an article in the Journal of School Violence.

It is estimated that 10% of all student bullying happens on school buses. However, a survey from the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) of over 2,000 transportation department employees found 55.6% had little or no input in developing district policies on bullying. Additionally, 71.9% agreed or strongly agreed that bullying was a serious problem on their school buses.

The same survey also found that while nearly every school district has an official code of conduct for all students, 20% do not define misbehavior or bullying on the school bus.

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“I want school administrators to become more aware of the problems that drivers are facing – they can’t just see school bus bullying as separate from the rest of the day,” said Dr. Nancy Blackwelder, an international staff development specialist who teaches classes on student behavior management.

More results from the NAPT survey can be found in this slideshow.

Include Transportation Staff in Developing School Bus Bullying Policies

Districts must include school bus personnel when creating district policies regarding student behavior. School bus drivers should be consulted and trained in line with other staff.

“Each year, schools involve teachers, administrators and someone from the community in their safety planning team, but they really need to have bus drivers and students on that team in an ongoing fashion,” says Dr. Ellen deLara, a family therapist and faculty member at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work. “If they don’t include the drivers and students, they’re missing the perspectives of a whole segment of the population.”

A survey from The National Education Association (NEA) found 81% of bus drivers live in the school district where they work, meaning many know the students and their families and can be an invaluable resource when seeking answers to bullying incidents.

Bus drivers are also 36% more likely to hear reports of bullying from students and parents than other education service providers. In the same survey, 94% of bus drivers said it is “their job” to intervene in bullying situations. That is why it is key for behavior policies to have explicit instructions on how to report incidents.

It is also vital to include transportation employees in bullying and discrimination training. The NAPT survey found that although 80% of drivers said they received this training, more than half said they want more training available to them.

The most requested training topics included:

  1. Ideas to help defuse crisis situations
  2. Best practices in student management and behavior
  3. Reporting responsibilities, especially in an incident involved bullying
  4. Information about the children and their problems
  5. Understanding social and community issues
  6. Understanding and awareness of disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education has developed a national-level bullying prevention training for school bus drivers. It can be accessed here.

Here are some tips from the Department of Education for intervening with bullying:

  • Learn about bullying so you know what to look for
  • When you see something, do something – be assertive and calm
  • Start with verbal warnings – use the name of the student who is bullying
  • If the behavior escalates, stop the bus in a safe place
  • Maintain control of yourself
  • Stand up and speak clearly and calmly to the involved students
  • Move affected students to new, safe seats
  • Report incidents as required by your school’s policy
  • Talk to other school staff about what you’ve witnessed

Students Often Confide in School Bus Drivers

The No. 1 recommendation from the Department of Education for preventing bullying is to establish a positive atmosphere on the bus. Something as small as a wave, a smile or a high five can ensure students that bus drivers are there to protect them.

According to deLara, 10% of students say their bus driver is the person they talk to if they need help solving a problem.

“Some kids don’t come from very good homes, so if they get on a bus and their driver greets them and gives them attention, the kids will feel safe and feel like this is an adult who cares about them,” she explains.

Because of this, deLara advocates creating a warm and inviting environment on the school bus – learn students name, greet them every morning, build a rapport so they feel comfortable reporting bullying. Be sure to get to know the students who are the bullies as well.

Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International who has trained bus drivers on bullying prevention, urges drivers to pay attention to students’ demeanors – body language, facial expressions, composure – when they enter and exit the school bus.

“Students who are chronically bullied rarely tell an adult while they’re in school, usually because they believe the adults don’t care or can’t do anything about the problem,” he says. “The more drivers reach out to their students, the more inclined a child will be to approach the driver if he or she is having a problem.”

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