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Fighting Back Against School Bus Bullying

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 11/05/2021

Bullying does not only happen during school hours or even within the confines of school grounds—it can also happen before or after school on the bus ride to or from campus. Unfortunately, students can be subject to everything from threats and rumors to verbal and physical assault while riding a school bus or waiting for one at the bus stop in their neighborhood.

The problem

School buses have always been fertile ground for bullying. (There’s a reason so many teen comedies feature scenes on a school bus.) With supervision often limited to a single adult whose vision is obstructed—and with their attention rightly focused on delivering students safely to their destination—it seems there may be little way for schools, educators, and bus drivers to prevent these behaviors.

One out of five high school students report they have been bullied by another student. That number could even be higher considering the students who may be afraid to admit they’ve been bullied. That’s why ATPE has staunchly advocated for improvements to Texas laws aimed at preventing and addressing bullying through education, mental health supports, protections for students and staff, and accurate reporting of incidents. ATPE-backed laws require schools to maintain policies to prevent bullying. Such school policies do a great deal to combat bullying in the classroom and the schoolyard, but so much more can be done to protect students from bus bullies.

What can schools do to prevent school bus bullying?

First, schools need to review and reenforce existing rules. Even in schools where bullying isn’t a prevailing issue, there is always room for improvement in the wording of guidelines, the emphasis on deterrence, and discipline. To best support bullying prevention, schools should adhere to transparent policies that are easily understood, applied consistently, and designed at the local level to discourage these behaviors with meaningful consequences and works best for the individual school district.

Another course of action more specific to school bus bullying involves increased use of additional adult supervision in buses and at bus stops. Bus drivers alone cannot reliably monitor dozens of students while driving; the presence of another adult who can focus their attention solely on passengers can help reduce and provide another avenue for reporting instances of bullying on the bus. This works equally well at otherwise unsupervised bus stops where incidents frequently occur.

To supplement additional adult supervision, another effective strategy for combatting bullying on school buses relies on both audio and video surveillance equipment to record students’ interactions while on board, entering, or exiting the bus. This technology can also show the events leading up to incidents and help better identify those involved. Some systems even offer a 360-degree, birds-eye view of the entire bus that can observe areas that drivers have difficulty monitoring.

What role do educators play?

Bullying prevention efforts in schools start with educators. Schools create anti-bullying cultures one classroom at a time, and educators are always on the frontline. For their efforts to have a positive impact, they must first familiarize themselves with the many forms of bullying. Training on this subject can include seminars, staff meetings, and sessions aimed at providing them with the tools to identify and respond to the unwanted, aggressive behaviors of their students. Educators must also adhere to their school’s bullying policies and enforce them appropriately. By developing a classroom culture where bullying is not tolerated, educators can indirectly—but effectively—impact the culture of school buses as well.

Mentoring and after-school programs are additional strategies that educators may employ to help establish a positive, nurturing environment where an anti-bullying culture can thrive. Included in any successful school bullying policy is a student mentoring program. This should target students from all over the bullying spectrum—victims, bystanders, instigators, perpetrators, etc.

Most importantly, educators need to share what they have learned from their training with students and parents regarding how and when to properly intervene when encountering bullying among students. It is crucial that educators clearly convey school policies concerning what constitutes bullying in school and on the bus. They should instruct students and parents how to report instances of bullying and provide whatever support they can.

What measures can bus drivers take?

Bus drivers are charged with the incredible responsibility of keeping students safe as they transport them to and from school every day. Alongside the safe operation of a large vehicle that may not be equipped with seatbelts, they are tasked with the supervision of the passengers as well. Undoubtedly, this can be challenging. Without suitable awareness and intervention training, drivers are not fully equipped to properly handle bullying situations they might encounter.

As the sole adult responsible for the behavior of groups of students—groups often larger than the number found in a typical classroom—bus drivers need a thorough understanding of school bullying policies that pertain to incidents on the bus and at bus stops. In some cases, they are expected to intervene, but safely operating the vehicle will always take precedence. As the eyes and ears of schools and parents on the bus, they play a vital role in the reaction to and prevention of bullying.

Drivers should report every instance of bullying they witness to school administrators. The reporting procedures should be clear and simple to encourage drivers to involve schools. Without this communication, drivers would not receive the necessary support from administrators, and parents would not be notified of incidents and actions taken to prevent those behaviors in the future.

Bullying on school buses and at bus stops can be tricky to report and prevent, but that doesn’t mean that students who ride the bus should be any less safe than ones who don’t. Although bus drivers are certainly closest to the action, they cannot effectively intervene and protect students under their care without training and the support of school administrators, other educators, and the anti-bullying culture that those individuals can help create. For legal help or guidance on dealing with an incident, eligible members can contact ATPE. To learn more about identifying and preventing all forms of bullying, visit stopbullying.gov.