Take seriously bus bullying complaints

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 2, 2012 

The school year has just begun and already we're hearing about problems on buses.

School district officials should get a handle on this quickly. Children should not dread the ride to and from school. It almost certainly will affect their classroom performance.

Safe, efficient transportation to and from school also will encourage parents to put their children on a bus rather than into the family vehicle. Complaints about backed-up traffic at local schools has begun, too. We'd all benefit from smoother-flowing traffic and fewer teen-age drivers on the road.

Buses and bullying seem to go together, and people who study such things say there's a reason:

Supervision is limited. The rush of activity getting on and off a bus makes small acts of bullying hard to notice. The driver can't react to every incident because he or she is driving a large vehicle. Victims of bullying can't retreat to another location. They often don't have a choice about riding the bus, making them easy, regular targets.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 30 percent of middle and high school students are bullied, and nearly 10 percent of the abuse occurs on a school bus.

But problems on an elementary school bus have prompted the latest round of concern here. Parents plan to petition the Beaufort County school board to install cameras on buses to document what's happening on the ride to and from school and to prevent trouble from occurring.

School district officials say they followed protocol to deal with the complaints and so far seem lukewarm about the idea of installing cameras.

Price is one reason. District officials estimate it would cost $230,000 to $257,000 to equip all of the district's approximately 150 buses. We suspect the money could be found.

Mildred Glover, assistant principal at Beaufort Elementary, says adult supervision on the buses would be better. The kids would learn to block the views of cameras once they know they are there.

We agree more adult supervision would help. Drivers can't be expected to operate a vehicle and keep track of and handle all that's going on literally behind their backs. Cameras probably would help more after the fact, although some kids might see them as a deterrent.

Installing cameras on the buses came up last school year, too. In April, during an update from the company that operates buses for the district, board members asked about reducing misbehavior on the buses. They were told video surveillance might be an option.

As for getting more adults on the buses, paid monitors could cost about $2.8 million a year, district spokesman Jim Foster said.

That's a lot of money for a problem the district's discipline figures suggest is not severe enough to warrant that kind of outlay.

In the 2011-2012 school year, only 17 of 2,159 out-of-school suspensions stemmed from bus incidents. That's down from 31 out of 2,468 out-of-school suspensions in the 2010-2011 school year.

But it should be noted that students were barred from riding the bus 316 times in 2010-2011; 194 of those bus suspensions went to elementary school students and 114 to middle school students, the district reported. High schoolers were barred from the bus only eight times. That probably has something to do with how few high school students ride the buses.

And the small numbers probably reflect how much trouble is missed by the drivers and not reported by students.

If cameras can help make the ride to and from school safer and more enjoyable, the idea shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. The district also should look at getting volunteer bus monitors. Another adult on board to help nip problems early might be the best approach.

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