Healthy Kids     K-12    

Prevent bus bullying

5 tips for dealing with school bus bullies

Prevent bullying on the school bus

As this new school year begins, many parents watch their children board those yellow buses with little cause for concern. Unfortunately, for some children, the school bus ride can be fraught with danger. With long rides, unstructured time and only one adult on board, the school bus is often a place where bullying runs rampant.  According to the U.S. Department of Education almost 10 percent of bullying occurs on a school bus.

With such statistics, what’s a parent to do?

1. Understand what constitutes bullying  

The U.S. Department of Education defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.  This behavior is then repeated or has the potential to be repeated. Bullying behaviors may include threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally and excluding someone from a group on purpose. 

The good news is that New York State enacted the Dignity for All Students Act in 2012. This act mandates that schools provide safe and supportive environments free from discrimination and harassment on school property and at school-sponsored events based. The discrimination is based on a person’s actual or perceived differences, including race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex. With the passage of the Dignity for All Students Act, school districts can no longer minimize bullying as kids just being kids.

The CROWN Act has also been recently enacted to prevent students from being bullied about their hair. Learn more about it here and here.

2.   Know the warning signs

The easiest way to discover if your children are being bullied is to talk to them. Ask about their experience riding the bus as part of routine conversations.  Make sure they know the rules and expectations regarding their own behavior and ways to avoid caving in to peer pressure.  Even if you do not suspect your kids are being bullied, it’s important to help them understand the difference between tattling and speaking out for what is right.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the following behaviors may be indicators that your child is being bullied:  

  • Unexplained physical injuries
  • Lost or broken personal items
  • Loss of friends
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Unexplained headaches or stomach aches

3.   Get to know the bus driver

Dan Shornstein, principal at Titusville Intermediate School in Poughkeepsie, has received kudos for his proactive methods of maintaining appropriate bus behavior.

Shornstein recommends that all parents cultivate a relationship with their child’s bus driver. “Learn his name and make sure the driver knows your child’s name,” he says. “This person can be invaluable in helping students interpret what’s happening around them and when further action may be needed.” If there are problematic behaviors on your child’s bus and the students involved have received an appropriate warning, it’s the driver’s responsibility to write up a disciplinary referral, thereby creating a paper trail, which is then submitted to the school principal for review.

“The students involved come in for conflict resolution,” says Shornstein. “Sometimes, a resolution is as simple as separating two students who simply cannot be together.” When several students are involved, assigned seats can be an option. “When other conflict resolution is unsuccessful, or if the situation becomes unsafe, suspension from the bus is also a possible outcome,” says Shornstein.


4.   Take a stand

Becky Coles and Jennifer O’Neill-Brennan are both parents of special needs students who founded the Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA). Initially started as a sub-committee of the Arlington Central School District PTA, SEPTA recently organized under New York State regulations. 

According to Coles and O’Neill-Brennan, SEPTA fills in the gap in services, support and information for families with special needs children or children who learn differently.  “Special needs students are at greater risk for being bullied on the bus because they are perceived as different,” says Cole. Both Cole and O’Neill-Brennan stressed that any child perceived as different is at risk, including LGBT youth, students with physical disabilities, youth of color, and English-language learners.  

Many students at risk of being bullied may also become involved in bullying by either directly participating in bullying behaviors or as a supportive bystander.   According to Coles, this is particularly true for special needs children, as “these students can be more naïve, less able to stand up for themselves and less able to filter out destructive behaviors.”

5.   Contact the principal

Amanda Gilleo, mother of two from New Windsor, says her son, Nicholas, suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. “Last year was his first year taking the ‘big boy bus’ to get to kindergarten,” says Gilleo. Nicholas had previously taken a bus to attend preschool, but the bus was smaller, required all students wear a seat belt and had an on-bus aid to monitor the children.

This year was quite different as children up to fifth grade were on the same bus as Nicholas. “The new bus required kindergarteners to sit in the first two rows,” says Gilleo. “But by the time Nicholas got on the bus, those seats were always taken by other kindergarteners or older students that were not supposed to be there.” 

According to Gilleo, it’s very hard for her son to remain still, so his bus driver took it upon herself to place a third grader in the same seat as Nicholas to babysit him while on the bus. “This little girl along with her friends started what they called a ‘Kindergarten Fight Club’ and encouraged other students on board to hold Nicholas down and physically torment him,” says Gilleo. “Our calls to the bus company fell on deaf ears… when my husband yelled at the bus driver, she just laughed.”

The final straw for Gilleo came one day during the middle of the school year when her son got off the bus hysterically crying and hyperventilating. “We took him into the school and had him tell the principal what was happening,” says Gilleo.

Although the principal reprimanded each student involved in the incident, he told Gilleo he could not control what the bus driver allows on her bus. The Gilleo family made the decision to pick Nicholas up from school until the “No big kids in the front” rule was put into full effect.

Marcia Szymanski has two stepchildren. She and her partner, Sharon, enjoy visiting the Hudson Valley during the summer.