More than 250 school bus drivers at the Shenendehowa Central School District in upstate New York recently attended a new course that focuses on transporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students and fighting bullying.
As previously reported, the educational program, "Transporting LGBTQ Students," is meant to offer a first-line of defense against bullying on school buses.
Lasting 90 minutes, it offers a combination of verbal presentation, PowerPoint slides and video clips of current and former students. Fees range from $1,500 to $3,000, based on number of drivers in the district.
It was created by the Cyr Foundation, a subsidiary of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT), and underwritten by the Utica National Insurance Group.
Already a half-dozen districts have signed up at this writing, with more inquiring. Shenendehowa was the first district to use the course.
Alfred Karam, Shenendehowa’s director of transportation, said the program aligned with the district’s "No Place for Hate" campaign, which promotes acceptance and respect in all of the district’s schools.
While a lot of attention has been placed on educating students, teachers and staff, Karam said little had been done before now to include bus drivers in the conversation.
“But they are important,” he added. “It’s all about getting tools to bus drivers.”
"It was definitely worthwhile," said Jeffrey Decatur, a 73-year-old bus driver and retired police officer who has driven school buses full- or part-time for most of his adult life.
"They’re kids, they don’t know what they’re doing,” he added. "If we can make a difference to their lives and show them the right way, that’s something I do every day. If you go about it right, you can change their attitude."
During the program, one driver said she felt the program singled out LGBTQ students as needing special attention, when in fact all students should be treated equally. Some just slept—the evening program came at the end of a split day that began around 6 a.m.
But most drivers seemed intrigued and enthusiastic. The district paid the drivers to attend, and video-recorded it for other drivers who could not make it.
"I found it pretty informative," said Craig Criscone, 54, a retired UPS driver who took up school buses four years ago. "It maybe opened my eyes a little bit, so if I get into a bullying situation, I can handle it. I wouldn’t tolerate it on my bus—they’re just as equal as any other students."
Across the country, there are many reports of students being bullied due to sexual orientation by other students, as well as by education staff, including bus drivers.
A report last December from Human Rights Watch that interviewed students, parents and others in five states, documented numerous examples of bullying, both in person and online, along with discrimination by the district.
During the presentation in Shenendehowa, instructor Betty Hughes explored the potentially problematic behaviors that bus drivers might not even know they are engaging in. For instance, if drivers give a "high-five" to every student coming on board, but fail to give it to a LGBTQ student, that could be considered harassment. Same as if one student is treated differently than others in terms of seating assignments.
Hughes advised drivers to "think with your heart."
Lisa Williams, a 47-year-old driver and former teacher, said there was one thing about the program she objected to: The use of words like "fag," even in explanations. "We’re all adults, we all know what language is offensive and what isn’t," she said.
She was more appreciative of the videos, which depicted former LGBTQ students who spoke about their experiences being bullied. She suggested the presentation include more videos and more real-life experiences.
"I appreciated this. Sometimes you don’t see what’s going on, and you don’t hear what the kids are saying to each other," she said. "For most people, if you just treat everybody nicely, like you’re supposed to, these issues wouldn’t be an issue."