Monday, November 27, 2006

Violence on School Buses Prompts Increased Security - District Turning to Cameras

By LEDYARD KINGGannett News Service
WASHINGTON — The recent wave of school violence has officials mulling whether to fortify buildings, fence off campuses, maybe even arm teachers.
But what about the school bus?

Each weekday, some 24 million public school children ride school buses driven by adults whose main job is to watch the road — not the kids on board.

The vast majority of rides remain uneventful. Yet isolated but well-publicized reports of bullying, fighting and last year's shooting of a bus driver in Cumberland City, Tenn., have prompted authorities to equip more buses with cameras, restrict access to non-students, and train drivers to deal with dangerous situations.

"Parents need to be more aware of what's happening on the bus," said Eric Gala of Lenox, Mich. His son, Chester, was left bloodied and bruised in May by a bully four years older and twice his size.

Experts say it's hard to tell if bus violence across the country is rising, because school districts don't keep good data. Ken Trump, a school safety consultant based in Cleveland, thinks it might be.

In a survey he conducted in 2004 of 750 school police officers around the nation, about one in three "indicated that violent incidents on school buses had increased in their districts during the past two years."
What is clear is that school districts are responding:
• Many are installing cameras above the driver and, in some newer models, at the rear as well, to record and deter misbehavior. Michael J. Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of buses have a camera. Metro Nashville school buses do use cameras.
• Districts in places like Buffalo, N.Y., are putting adult monitors on buses to help keep order.
• More drivers are being trained to deal with unruly behavior and even terrorism situations, according to drivers and safety experts.
• Florida, New York and other states have passed laws making it a crime for non-students to board a bus without the driver's permission, Martin said.
That wouldn't have helped Joyce Gregory, 47, shot to death in March 2005 by Jason Clinard, a 14-year-old student in Cumberland City. She had referred the boy to school administrators for using smokeless tobacco on the bus.
"That was an eye-opener for the industry," Martin said. "As a consequence, you're seeing drivers much more aware of what students (are doing)."
That kind of event is extremely rare. What's more commonplace — though still unusual, experts say — are fights and bullying among students on the bus.
Those problems are compounded by crowded buses, a mixture of different-age students, and a sense that no one is watching.
"Bullying occurs more frequently where there is less supervision. It's a crime of opportunity, and you're not going to do it where you're going to get caught," said Robert Shoop, a professor of education law at Kansas State University. "The school bus is a very fertile arena for inappropriate behavior."