Is school bus discipline a problem in your school? Two school bus discipline policies available on the Web might serve as effective models.
Isn't school bus duty one of teaching's (or principal-ing's) great joys? By the end of the school day, students are eager to get home -- and school staff are eager to get them out the door!
And once the kids are safely on the bus, they're out of your mind. Right?
Getting kids home -- all the way home -- doesn't end with the final bell of the school day.
Once students are on their buses, they might be out of your control -- but they are still your responsibility. After the bus pulls out of the school parking lot, the bus driver is in command. But, as many educators are well aware, drivers often need the support of school administrators in getting their passengers home safely.
And many school administrators have found that a strong, well-thought-out -- and enforceable -- bus discipline policy is the only way to "travel."
A CODE OF CONDUCT FOR BUS RIDERS
Robert Ewart, assistant principal at Murray Avenue School in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, was the force behind creating that school's Bus Safety Code, unveiled last March.
"It was the first time that we'd put the behaviors we expect on the school bus in writing," Ewart says. "The policy delineates the expected behaviors, and it delineates the specific consequences of each misbehavior."
"Bus drivers can see a difference, administrators and teachers can see a difference, and the students seem happier because they're more comfortable when riding the bus," adds Murray Avenue School principal Thomas Wittkamp.
Behavior problems on the school buses were the motivation behind the new policy.
"We worked closely with the school bus drivers in developing the policy," Ewart adds. "We considered the incidents that were most frustrating for drivers when we were putting it together."
A "POSITIVE" POLICY
The emphasis of the new school bus discipline policy is on the positive and on safety, Ewart explains. The policy isn't called a bus "discipline" policy, it's called the "bus safety code." And the code is worded in positive terms, with the emphasis on "behaviors we expect," not "misbehaviors." In that sense, the code reflects a school-wide push for positive behaviors and universal values such as responsibility, respect, and citizenship.
Expected bus behavior is broken down into three levels. At each level, the consequences for misbehavior are spelled out in detail. For example:
Level I behaviors include being seated when the bus is moving. Failure to follow that rule will result in one or more consequences, including a warning, an assigned seat on the bus, or a one- to three-day after school detention.
Level II behaviors include "Do not hit, punch, or kick" and consequences include one or more of the following: a two- to five-day after school detention, a one- to five-day bus suspension, or a one- to three-day school suspension.
Level III behaviors include the possession or use of matches or lighters and consequences include a five-day or longer bus suspension, a three- to ten-day school suspension, expulsion from school, or contact with police or district justice.
All misbehaviors include parental notification.
"Knowing what is expected, and knowing the consequences of school bus misbehavior, is essential to the success of any bus safety code," says Ewart. "It makes my job easier too."
THREE! THREE CODES IN ONE!
This year, each student at Murray Avenue School received a handbook that includes three school codes -- the bus safety code, a computer conduct code, and the school's new discipline code (introduced this year and modeled after the bus safety code). All kids were introduced to the codes and were asked to sign a "contract" that indicates they'd read and understood them.
Then, on Parent's Night, parents were given the students' handbooks. Then parents took the handbooks home with them for reference. Should the handbook be misplaced, the contents of the school's Bus Safety Code can be found on the Murray Avenue School Web page, along with the other elements of the school's Code of Conduct.
"This is a team effort," Ewart adds. "Parent involvement and support are very important."
Has the code been used?
"We've had to use the code a number of times, especially for Level 1 offenses," Ewart says. "But the number of problems on school buses is way down. And so far this year we've had zero problems."
"Since the bus safety code went into effect last March we haven't had to suspend anyone's bus riding privileges," he adds.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE
RESPONSIBLE FOR 37,000 BUS RIDERS?
Half a country away, in Anoka, Minnesota, Chuck Holden watches over the safety of 37,000 students each day. Holden is Transportation Director for Anoka-Hennepin District No. 11, a school district that includes 13 municipalities spread over 176 square miles!
The district's School Bus Discipline Policy, which has been in effect since 1987, has attracted lots of attention as a model policy. The policy highlights Class I and Class II offenses, each with its own consequences.
"The policy has helped everyone involved -- students, parents, drivers, teachers, and school administrators," says Holden.
"Before 1987," Holden says, "the school bus policy was a little vague. We were experiencing problems because discipline problems on school buses were being handled inconsistently. The policy has greatly reduced the inconsistencies."
"But discipline problems on the buses will never go away entirely," he adds.
In 1994, the state of Minnesota mandated bus safety education. All parents in the Anoka-Hennepin district must sign and return a note to their child's classroom teacher saying that they went over the bus safety rules with their child, Holden explains.
"We don't have parents calling to complain anymore," he adds.
And overall discipline has improved.
"We've seen a drop in the number of discipline problems," says Holden. "But with 37,000 kids riding our buses each day we still hand out several hundred one- to three-day suspensions each year. A suspension will usually resolve the problem. Each year we handle just a few of the most serious offenses."
Officials meet monthly to review issues of bus discipline and bus safety, Holden adds. And a yearly meeting is set aside for the purpose of reviewing the discipline policy. In addition, drivers participate in special in-service programs focused on handling situations that require discipline.
"That has helped more than just having the policy," says Holden.
"Let's not forget that riding the bus is a privilege, not a right," he adds. And the district's policy helps to "drive home" that point to 37,000 students and their parents.
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © Education World
Last updated 08/30/2011