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Bullied bus monitor: Case of Karen Klein spotlights problem on school buses

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One study based on interviews with 30 bus drivers from four school districts found that 90 percent of them noticed verbal bullying on their buses, and 70 percent noticed physical intimidation. Thirty percent said bullying occurred often on their buses and they stopped frequently to intervene, according to the 2008 research by Ellen deLara, an associate professor at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work.

“Kids talk about this venue as the worst part of their day,” Ms. deLara says. “Most [buses] don’t even have a monitor in the first place, which leaves the driver trying to transport the students safely and attend to any bullying that’s happening behind him or her…. Anything that brings further education to the bus drivers would be useful…. They really want to have a safe bus and a dignified environment.”

One reason drivers suggested that students are bullied on the bus is that their peers can see where they live – and often it’s those who live in very poor conditions, and may be sent to school in dirty clothes, for instance, who receive the most abuse.

More state laws are kicking in that require all school staff, including bus drivers, to formally report bullying. But drivers are often frustrated when they inform school administrators about problems on the bus and there seems to be little follow-up.

In deLara’s study, about a third of drivers said school administrators were not supportive of their efforts to control bullying.

“There needs to be increased attention paid at the school-building level when a driver indicates there’s a problem,” says Peter Mannella, executive director of the New York (State) Association for Pupil Transportation. “They see and hear things others won’t hear.”

The roughly 50,000 drivers and 10,000 monitors in New York State have received antibullying training developed by state education officials and his group, Mr. Mannella says.

The Karen Klein incident indicates “we’ve got work to do with kids to engender a sense of respect for each other and the people driving or monitoring the bus to try to keep them safe,” Manella says. And it’s prompting people in his organization to ask, “What are we missing in training that might have helped in that situation?”

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