Back to Basics: Partners in Student Safety In and Around the School Bus
The 2018-19 school year has not started out in the most favorable way for students and their families across our nation. Unofficial data derived through media outlets have identified 12 student fatalities that occurred while loading or unloading our school buses. One happened in August, one happened in September, eight students lost their lives in October, and two students lost their lives in November of 2018. These are sobering statistics and we grieve for the families who lost their children.by Peter Lawrence, Ed.D., CDPT, NAPT Director - Region 1
This school year has not started out in the most favorable way for students and their families across our nation. Unofficial data derived through media outlets have identified 12 student fatalities that occurred while loading or unloading our school buses. One happened in August, one happened in September, eight students lost their lives in October, and two students lost their lives in November of 2018. These are sobering statistics and we grieve for the families who lost their children.
As we start the holiday season, we need to be especially alert because according to the Kansas State Department of Education statistics dating back to 1979, the months of January, February, and March are three of the four most deadly months. January is the most deadly followed by October, March, and February (95 fatalities, 89 fatalities, 82 fatalities, and 80 fatalities respectively).
In my view, we need to focus on a back to basics approach when it comes to student safety. Supervisors and school bus drivers need to be partners in safety when it comes to school bus stops. Looking critically at school bus stops annually when creating/revising bus routes is important. Then, allowing and making sure that school bus drivers are performing practice runs with a critical eye for safety is necessary. Based on these practice runs, bus stops identified as unsafe need to be reviewed and evaluated to protect our students who we are entrusted to transport safely to and from school each day. Do you have a process that is available to parents where they can raise concerns about school bus stop safety and district officials and or contractors can review questionable school bus stops? A sample set of forms are available here (look for the School Bus Stop Review Request Form and School Bus Stop Decision Appeal Form). When looking at bus stops are we minimizing crossing? Have we looked at the timing of the routes along with the district's bell times? There are many factors to consider when routing a bus that are beyond this brief reminder.
A few valuable resources that come to mind are School Bus Stops: A Safety Guide for Transporters by Bernstein, Burns, and Ellis that is available from the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI). There is also valuable training on this subject through NAPT's Professional Development Series (PDS) courses that are available at your State conference, NAPT Annual Conference or online. As a suggestion, look at the following PDS classes:
- 601 School Bus Routing & Scheduling I
- 602 School Bus Routing & Scheduling II
- 608 Developing a Safety Program
I also encourage you to look at California's recommended escorted crossing procedure. It is interesting to note that in over 80 years of using their escorted crossing procedure they have never experienced a student fatality. However, California has experienced crossing fatalities when the escorted crossing procedure has not been employed. Note: California is large and diverse in its geography from deserts in the south to mountains in the north with snow. The California crossing procedure is often balked at as too much work or absurd that you would ask a driver to leave the bus with students on board to cross students. However, the data is very impressive if you look at it and our disturbing trend of student fatalities. A study in 2017 by the University of Iowa showed that perceptual judgment and motor skills necessary to cross a highway are not fully developed until age 14. This could lead to the assumption that our children are just too young to cross the road on their own. Either the use of an adult driver or monitor is worthy of discussion. Click here to view a video from their research.
Above all and perhaps most important is to have genuine conversations with your transportation team about the need to put student safety over maintaining schedules. School bus drivers need to be focused on the task at hand, not distracted by the upcoming holidays, financial challenges, or family issues. I always share with new hires that as school bus drivers we cannot afford to allow our personal adult lives to negatively influence the safety of our children. I share the true story of a friend and colleague (Bob Cummings) who courageously fought cancer for about eight years while driving a school bus. Bob would always have his chemotherapy, and later radiation, during his midday runs. He would always come back in the afternoon on a Friday to see his students. I would say to Bob “Why don't you take the afternoon off, you have plenty of sick days and will be well rested for Monday?” Bob would tell me that when he was behind the wheel of a school bus that he was forced to be in the moment. He was able to focus on all that was good with the world and his students. He told me that his cancer would be waiting for him when we was off the clock and this time driving was a gift as he did not need to worry about the cancer while he was driving. I use this lesson from Bob with new employees to give themselves the freedom to leave their adult baggage in their vehicle when they come to work (family challenges, financial worries, arguments, etc.), and that it will be there waiting for them when they return. However, as adults entrusted with the lives of children on our school buses, we need to be in the moment, anticipating what other motorists will and will not do. The stakes are too high to approach this challenge any other way.