So often school safety is focused on initiatives that help keep students and staff safe inside the school building or on district property, but what about on school buses? Riding the bus is how many students start and end their day, making it a crucial safety touchpoint.
To learn what safety factors districts should consider to keep buses – including the driver and students on the bus – safe, we spoke with Bret E. Brooks, the Chief Operating Officer at Gray Ram Tactical, LLC. The private training and consulting firm specializes in crisis prevention and response for schools, transportation companies, businesses and law enforcement. Brooks identified four areas of bus safety schools should consider.
1. Clear lines of communication can help prevent incidents.
Often there is not a consistent line of communication between the bus driver and the district or school. If a student is disruptive or aggressive on the bus in the morning, bus drivers seldom have the means to report this to administration. This goes both ways – if the student was disruptive or aggressive during the school day, teachers or other school staff do not always alert the bus driver so he or she is prepared. Creating a process for reporting student behavior back and forth can help create a more supportive experience for the student involved and prepare school staff and/or the bus driver to intervene or deescalate potential disturbances.
Looking at this lack of communication through a crisis prevention lens, Gray Ram Tactical also recently completed research and found students who intend to carry out school shootings more often arrive by bus today, rather than the historical precedence walking or driving.. Schools must understand that bus drivers could be the first line of defense in these types of situations, so it is imperative that bus drivers have the tools to report concerns, especially if they could potentially thwart a fatal attack.
2. If an accident or crisis should occur, how stakeholders react and respond impacts the outcome.
When a parent or family member finds out there has been an accident or a safety incident that may involve their child, it’s instinctual for them to want to go to the scene. However, it is crucial that parents and families not converge on the scene so first responders can get through and administer any necessary medical attention.
School districts and the transportation department should have a reunification plan ready to go and enact it as soon as they are alerted of an incident. Students who are not injured will be transported to a reunification location, which is typically a predesignated school. School officials then ask families to report to this location and pick up their children, thus keeping them away from the scene.
A crucial step some districts may forget is to alert administration at the predesignated school of the accident and that the reunification plan has been enacted. This allows them to prepare for an influx of incoming parents and students. It also gives them time to bring the school nurse and school counselor to the area to provide services, as well as the school’s principal. For students who have just experienced a traumatic event, interacting with familiar faces at the reunification site can be helpful.
3. Don’t hesitate to alert the media about an accident or crisis.
Many districts’ first instinct is to hold off on calling the media and only conducting a press conference once they have all the facts. However, delaying the response only feeds fear and suspicion.
Just like the reunification plan, districts should have a media plan ready to go and enact it once they are alerted of an accident or crisis. This plan should include immediately scheduling a press conference within the hour and alerting media of the time and location of the press conference. This press conference can be brief since the district and authorities are still collecting details, but it should paint a basic picture of what happened and announce the time and location of a later press conference. Districts can even say “we don’t have all the details at this time, but it is an ongoing investigation and the scene is still being worked.” This keeps media from going to the scene, as well as helping in keeping everyone informed.
Social media is not to be ignored in a time of crisis. Districts should post about press conferences on their website and social media channels. Also, keep in mind those involved in the incident may use social media to alert their followers and loved ones that they were unharmed or to provide their own live updates of the situation. Districts should inform staff and bus drivers they must refrain from posting details about the incident while it is still being investigated.
It may be difficult to control what students share about an incident on their social media channels. By posting information about the incident and press conference immediately, districts are better able to get ahead of any rumors or misinformation.
4. Regardless of how serious the incident is, bus drivers must be trained to handle every day occurrences.
Bus drivers are constantly managing how the public is interacting with the bus. Unfortunately, other motorists speed, cause accidents, or even engage in road rage with buses. They disobey the bus stop arm and nearly miss or accidentally run over students. Because of this, Brooks says districts should take an “all hazards approach” to training. Bus drivers should be trained to react to any situation. If someone in a fit of road rage approaches the driver, if there is a disruptive student, or if there is an accident, their response should be the same.
- Stay calm. People make better decisions when they are calm.
- Notify someone. Regardless of the situation, report it. Bus drivers typically do this via radio, but if they need someone to respond, ask for someone to respond.
- Deescalate the situation. When the situation is deescalated the situation, it helps lessen its impact and helps keep everyone calm.