Security is a concern for all school employees, including school bus drivers. We were once again reminded of this with the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students and school staff members were killed on Feb. 14.
In the weeks that followed, the transportation department continued to support students and staff by providing transportation to resources and services for students, parents, and the community during the recovery process. Flexible bus scheduling was available for students returning to school on a phased reopening schedule, says Kay Blake, the assistant director of the district’s student transportation and fleet services department.
Amid a sensitive national debate over how to eradicate school violence, concerns have very likely turned toward securing school buses. Here are some tips and insights from experts on how to help keep school buses and sites secure, and manage students’ concerns about their safety.
1. EMPOWER BUS DRIVERS
Taking a more comprehensive approach that involves all school staff members and doing more to empower school bus drivers are two steps recommended by Dr. Stephen Sroka, president of Health Education Consultants, adjunct assistant professor at the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, and longtime school safety expert. “School safety is a concern for everyone, not just the school resource officer or the principal,” Sroka says. “Everyone has to be involved, and one of the key people is the bus driver.”
2. SECURE THE LOCATION
Buses should be parked in a secure area, says Gary Moore, safety specialist at Missouri School Boards’ Association. Pre-trip inspections should also be conducted consistently and thoroughly, Moore adds. Other TSA location security tips include locking the bus, if possible; not leaving it unattended or out of sight; and looking for out-of-place items such as a canister, propane-style tank, metal box, or bottle.
3. PAY ATTENTION TO “JDLRS”
Drivers should check on details they notice on or around the bus that “Just Don’t Look Right” (JDLRs) and notify authorities. Examples of JDLRs include a student on the bus being dressed completely differently for no specific occasion; a backpack or bookbag left on the bus; or a vehicle following the bus for no known reason.
4. REASSURE, INVOLVE STUDENTS
Drivers should have safety procedures for all hazards, and tell students they are as safe as they can be right now. Sroka encourages including them in the safety program by telling them that “we can work together to make this bus as safe as possible.”
5. LOOK AND LISTEN BEFORE YOU TALK
Focus on students’ concerns before responding. People often give solutions before understanding the problem as a way of addressing their needs and not the student’s, Sroka says.
6. MODEL GOOD BEHAVIOR BY KEEPING CALM
In a challenging or crisis situation, “be concerned, but [control] your fear,” Sroka adds. “You have to remember that you are in control, so you have to be a model for the kids.”
7. USE AGE- AND VALUE-APPROPRIATE MESSAGES
Sroka advises that discussion on safety issues should align with the school’s procedures and what is appropriate for the community.
8. MAINTAIN ROUTINE IN A CRISIS
Routines give comfort and support. Whenever possible, keeping schools open during a crisis is a good idea, because mental health staff members can support students, Sroka notes.
9. GREET EACH STUDENT BY NAME
Sroka also recommends practicing the two “S”s: “Say hi” and “Smile.”
10. MAINTAIN THE THREE “H”S: HONESTY, HUMOR, AND HOPE
“These are things that kids really want to hear,” Sroka says.