A matter of bus safety
May 28, 2013 | 563 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Now that area schools have dismissed for the summer and students will enjoy a brief hiatus from the academic demands of the classroom, many in the community might have already forgotten a disturbing report from a Cleveland Board of Education session earlier this month.

We hope this is not the case because it involves the lives of our children as well as motorists who share the roads with a multitude of bright yellow, 20-ton school buses.

For those scratching their heads, let us reflect on a front-page news story published by our newspaper in the May 9 edition. It carried the headline “Student behavior on buses debated: Driver retention being affected.”

The driver retention issue — in other words, bus drivers are quitting their jobs — is sobering enough. But the real threat is public safety which includes students, drivers and other motorists.

It’s this simple. Students are misbehaving on city school system buses, thereby creating distractions for drivers who are just trying to do their jobs.

As was made clear in the school board meeting, and as we will make clear today, the problem is not with all students nor with all buses. According to Hal Taylor, Cleveland City Schools’ maintenance and transportation director, and Paul Ramsey, energy education specialist, 80 to 90 percent of the system’s 2,450 student riders are behaving. The remaining 10 to 20 percent are not, which translates to about one to three students on certain buses but not all buses.

In the recent presentation to the board by Taylor and Ramsey, it was not their intent to condemn all students who ride buses. Their purpose was to inform board members that a problem exists, one that threatens the safety of students and others. And, their objective was to remind all — board members, students, parents and the community — that transportation provided by school systems is a privilege, but not a requirement.

According to Ramsey, and this point should be made crystal clear, the issue of student behavior on buses is not limited to Cleveland City Schools. We have no reason to believe similar issues don’t arise occasionally on Bradley County Schools’ contractor buses or in Athens or in Chattanooga or in Nashville or in distant states and unknown towns across America. It is seemingly a nationwide dilemma, one that school systems — and boards — are addressing in different ways.

Options exist and none is especially attractive. A few suggested by Taylor and Ramsey include:

- Hiring part-time monitors whose sole job is to control student behavior, therefore allowing drivers to concentrate on the road ahead and to do what drivers are hired to do — that is, to drive.

- Incentive programs that will encourage bus drivers to stay the course and not quit without giving due diligence by authorities a fair chance.

- Allow teachers to volunteer to make ride-alongs on buses and to serve a role comparable to paid monitors.

- Provide extended training to bus drivers to help them better cope with unruly students while focusing on safe driving.

- Implement a suspension policy — like that already in place for classrooms — that would deny transportation to students showing continued misbehavior.

Of the options mentioned, hired monitors would add to an already crunched education budget. Incentive programs are an encouragement to drivers, but they don’t address the underlying problem. Teacher ride-alongs, even by volunteers, would add even more load to the growing slate of responsibilities placed on educators. Extensive training, as in any endeavor, is always a help but, again, it does not address the root issue.

We suggest that addressing the base cause means training the student. Such tutelage could be done at school for bus riders, but it carries tremendous time and logistical demands.

Suspension of misbehaving students from riding the buses — meaning they, or their parents and guardians, will have to find their own way to school — is a legitimate option. But still, it merely skims the surface of the problem.

As we see it, the core issue is parental or guardian involvement and in-home discipline. Children should understand the difference between behavior and misbehavior, and right from wrong, long before they enter a classroom or step foot onto a crowded school bus. It is the parent or guardian who must teach it.

Any who are now rolling their eyes must remember: What misbehaving students are doing is bad enough. But what misbehaving students can cause could be catastrophic.

To again quote Taylor and Ramsey, at issue is not every student on every bus. The guilty will know who they are, as will the innocent.

The problem, as espoused by those in a position to know, is with only a few. But sadly, the misguided and unthinking actions of just a few can bring grave consequence to the many.