Keep progress going on school bus bullying

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 15, 2012 

Good for the Beaufort County Board of Education for quickly responding to parents' concerns about bullying on school buses.

A Beaufort Elementary School parent told the board earlier this month that her three children have been bullied on the bus ride home since the start of the school year. Christina Chandler gathered more than 500 signatures in support of putting cameras on school buses.

A better list of names to bring the board would be volunteers willing to ride school buses as adult monitors to help the one adult on board who must drive a large vehicle while also watching children behind his or her back.

Board chairman Fred Washington Jr. appointed four board members to research options that might improve bus behavior. Washington asked for a report in 60 days, which did not satisfy Chandler. But she needs to be realistic. That's fast action for a board with about 160 buses to deal with, a number of security options that must be thoroughly researched, many other issues to address, and an obligation to serve all taxpayers and students whether or not they ride the bus.

Meanwhile, parents with problems can lean harder on principals and the private firm that is contracted to provide bus service.

The committee chaired by Michael Rivers got right to work and seems to have made progress in its initial meeting Wednesday.

Most encouraging is that cost estimates to put cameras on buses were significantly lower than estimates bandied about just a few weeks ago by a school district employee. The estimate that previously was $230,000 to $257,000 dwindled to $71,064 to $90,720. The lower estimate would cover rental of cameras.

The disparity shows why a solution is not available immediately, and why the committee asked the school district staff to do a thorough, new study.

It also should get updated estimates on the cost to employ monitors to ride buses, a cost that the board has been told would be a prohibitive $2.8 million per year.

Bullying and other bad behavior has been going on for generations on school buses.

But school districts nationwide seem to be taking the bullying issue more seriously now. The cost of monitoring behavior with multiple cameras aboard each school bus should be seen as basic as the cost of tires and oil. Common sense dictates that one adult on board who also must drive, is not enough.

However, technology is a tool, not an answer.

The school board also needs to know why a parent with a continual problem cannot get answers now. Already, a system is in place to report problems to the bus service, which reports to school leaders, who can punish offenders. Last school year, only 17 out-of-school suspensions stemmed from bus incidents.

The truth might be that if every student who should be was booted off a bus, scores of students could go uneducated because they could not get to school.

Cameras could serve as a deterrent to bad behavior, but only if students fear what might happen to them if they're caught. Cameras could help document bad behavior and make punishment more consistent, but only if bus service and school leaders are willing to act before a frustrated mother has to rattle their cages.

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