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Fired APS bus driver’s case brings attention to student behavior and safety

Student behavior on school buses  play a critical role in transportation safety.
Student behavior on school buses play a critical role in transportation safety.

Driving a school bus is never an easy job. Along with watching the road for distracted motorist, a bus driver must also deal with all the distractions a load of lively students can bring. According to the National Transportation Research Board of National Academics (TRB), school bus crashes are often attributed to commonly reported causes like weather, and road conditions. But the TRB says more research is uncovering the needed to better understand the role driver distractions, caused by students, play in school buses accidents.

Jim Ellis, Director of Research & Instructional Design at the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute stated, “Driver distractions, because of on-board behavior problems, is one of the most common causes of school bus accidents and fatalities”.

One Atlanta Public School bus driver, fired after pepper spraying students during a school bus fight, feels that discipline problems with students is a real safety concern.

The unidentified driver, interviewed by Channel 2 Action News, said he needed better security on his school bus. The man said he actually felt threatened by the students he transported and endured profane name calling from the students as well.

“The driver is not safe if they cannot focus on the road and they are concerned that a child is going to bust them in the head while their back is turn,” said the APS bus driver.

He showed documents where he reported threats made by students, a broken bus security camera and an inoperable two-way radio.

The APS driver was fired after the district reviewed the August 6 incident where the driver used pepper spray to break up a bus fight at Atlanta’s Maynard Jackson High School. Ten students and one assistant principal was treated treated at a local hospital as a result of the pepper spray.

The driver told Channel 2 that he was punched and pushed by students during the fight as he tried to get off the bus. He admitted to using the pepper spray to both defend himself and get things under control.

However, the Atlanta Public School system points out that pepper spray is not allowed on school campuses.

An Atlanta Public Schools spokesperson released a statement relating to the driver’s termination:

“We take the safety of our students and drivers very seriously -- it is our number one transportation concern. In direct response to the bus driver's concerns, the driver's supervisor provided a second driver on the bus on both morning and afternoon routes to help with student discipline. At the time of the incident, the bus was parked at the school, and the second driver sought help from a school administrator”.

The district also stated:

"The digital video recording devices on our buses were evaluated this summer. Our transportation department is in the process of removing all inoperative camera systems with plans to purchase and install camera systems on all school buses.”

Some parents and students, committing on the pepper spray story, said the problem is not necessarily poor bus drivers, but students who are simply out of control.

Every school district start the year providing students with some form of “student code of conduct” guideline. This information provides a very detailed and clear explanation of expected student behavior and the consequences faced when the rules are not followed.

So what role does student behavior play in keeping school bus riders safe? What happens when school bus drivers are unable to handle discipline problems presented by passengers?

Since this issue centers round the ability of students to maintain self-control in order that the bus driver can conduct safe transports, it's important to find out what students think about this concern.

In interviewing high school and middle school students across Metro Atlanta, one key factor stood out in their responses. Most students agree that it’s usually just a few people causing the problems on school buses. Students said the reason some kids behave poorly on school buses is because they think they can get away with it. They also said the majority of their classmate are cooperative riders and willing to follow instructions.

The main solution offered by students is for the school bus drivers to waste no time putting the problem causing passengers off the bus. This response was surprisingly overwhelming among the students interviewed. Most schools’ codes of conduct information already states circumstances for removing bus riding privileges from students who can’t follow the rules.

By enforcing the school rules right-a-way, and not allowing students with discipline issue to return to the bus until they agree to respect the school rules, a driver creates the on-board environment needed for safe student transportation.

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