Jesus M. Villahermosa, J., founder of Crisis Reality Training and a 30-year career law enforcement officer, says the biggest security facing student transporters is how to train their school bus drivers to respond to on-board violence. Can they protect their students? Themselves? STN EXPO attendees in July will receive specific information as to their rights.
Villahermosa presents consecutive two-hour special training session on July 10 at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada aimed at arming school bus drivers with the survival tactics and de-escalation methods needed in the most mundane cases of school bus fights but also, most outrageously, an active-shooter event. The sessions require special registration at stnexpo.com. (Attendees who are already registered for the full conference can log back in and select Villahermosa's sessions for an additional cost.)
Villahermosa will also end the day with an inspirational general-session keynote that celebrates school bus safety and the jobs performed each day by school bus drivers nationwide.
He is a former deputy for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Tacoma, Washington and served as a member of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department S.W.A.T. Team. A certified master defensive tactics instructor for law enforcemnt personnel in Washington state, Villahermosa is also the former director of campus safety at Pacific Lutheran University.
Despite being a regular interview subject for network and local newscasts, writing security articles, finishing a book, producing security videos, and of course training — he estimated that he's trained over 150,000 student transportation professsionals during his career — Villahermosa sat down with us recently to talk school bus security, his training sessions at STN EXPO, what registered attendees for his special event can expect to learn, and why he has so much respect for school bus drivers.
School Transportation News: In your opinion why is there so much confusion across the industry as to the rights of school bus drivers to protect themselves or students from onboard incidents?
Villahermosa: That's a great question, and after training thousands of school bus drivers across the country I think there are a few reasons. The biggest challenge any school transportation supervisor faces is: In what areas do I train my drivers? Almost all of them are going to address the technical aspects of driving a bus such as pre- and post-trip inspections, evacuation drills, skills testing on how to drive the bus safely, and proper radio procedures. Although all of those are important to the operation of the bus, the fact is that, what is on the tip of every driver's tongue is: How do I keep myself and my students safe should a man-made crisis arise on the bus? Such as a non-custodial parent attempting to remove their child from the bus at a bus stop, or the unauthorized boarding of the bus by someone with violent intent...an active shooter. Or how do I break up a fight physically mile minimizing my own risk of injury or that of the students involved and am I even legally required to physically intervene? What rights do I have as a bus driver when it comes to someone trying to attack me or my students? The list goes on, but I think you get my point.
The second biggest challenge, in my opinion, is that most transportation supervisors have no background in personal safety issues, so how can they answer any of these questions? Many train their drivers by the old cultural mentality of "Don't touch these kids!" The only problem with that mentality is that any driver has the right to touch any student if and when the law allows it. Specifically, in situations involving self-defense, defense of others, self-inflicted injury and destruction of property. In fact, every state in the country addresses this in the state’s corporal punishment law, but the right to use necessary and reasonable force, depending on which state you drive in, is a hidden component in those laws. What makes it worse is that although 19 states still make corporal punishment legal, almost every school in those states does not practice corporal punishment any longer. So how would the transportation supervisor know about that hidden component let alone know how to train it? These are just some of the issues I have observed and spoken to drivers, supervisors and directors about across the country. We must change our training to reflect the growing concern for the personal safety of our nation's school bus drivers!
STN: What is the biggest safety or security risk facing student transporters? Students on buses?
Villahermosa: In my opinion, one of the biggest safety and security risk any bus driver across America faces is violence on the bus. Whether that violence be from a student-on-student fight, a student-on-driver fight, a parent-on-driver fight, a bus takeover or an active shooter on the bus, the drivers I am training across the country have made it clear to me that these are their biggest concerns. The challenge is that no one wants to talk about it because it is scary, and many of our driver-trainers don't know how to properly and effectively address these issues, as I have noted previously, that this is not their area of expertise. For students, bullying is still a very big issue nationally, and the fact that buses force students to sit so closely together just adds to their concerns t is critical that our bus drivers make sure to scan that rear-view mirror at least once every 10 seconds as their job is not only to keep the bus safely on the road but to assure the safety of their student passengers by noticing the pre-cursors to violence before the act occurs.
STN: What does your training, especially that at the STN EXPO this summer, seeking to clarify for attendees?
Villahermosa: I'm very excited about the “Defensible Use of Force on the Bus” session, as that will absolutely clarify for anyone attending that session what rights they have on the bus as a driver should they or their students be put in imminent threat of harm. I will answer any “what-if” scenarios that participants will have, and they will leave the session with absolute confidence of their rights regarding use of force issues while on the bus.
“The Active Killer Survival on the Bus” session is going to focus on using that same level of awareness that our drivers currently utilize to drive the bus and focusing on body language recognition and student relationships to mitigate violence before it occurs on the bus. I will also address what options the driver will have if a shooter does board their bus. Again, these are topics no one wants to talk about yet the drivers are asking this in their heads and need to have reality based answers. I will address why it is better to have a plan and not need it than to need a plan and not have it!
STN: What makes you so passionate about student transportation?
Villahermosa: I find school bus drivers to be the most amazing people! I call them the salt of the earth as a large majority of them are retired from a previous profession and want to still be engaged with our nation's students. What makes them so amazing to me is that they drive a bus full of rambunctious students, attempt to keep those students seated and safe while driving this long metal bus down the road so everyone gets to their destination safely! Let's not forget that our nation's teachers teach from the front of the class with usually no more than 30 students in their classrooms. School bus drivers drive with up to 70 students on the bus and those students all sit behind the driver...wow. In a classroom there is room for students to move about and there is a less likelihood of conflict because we all have a need for proxemic space. But on a school bus the seats are usually 39 inches wide, and if you put three students, or even two in every seat you can imagine the level of anxiety those students may have given the lack of proxemic space and how that can lead to greater volatility.
Given my previous 33 years as a law enforcement officer and 30 years on the S.W.A.T. Team, I believe that our nation's school bus drivers are a lot like cops. They have an extremely tough job to do, get very little to no thanks for doing it from the general public, and yet they are still there doing it every day. And to close, what makes all of that so amazing is that school bus drivers have the best safety record of any transportation industry in the United States! That's right, better than planes, trains, transit and automobiles. In fact, a student in this country is safer being transported on a yellow school bus than they are with their own parents. So I am passionate about training school bus drivers as I feel that they, of all the occupations in the education field, deserve reality based training that one day might save their or their student's lives. God bless each and every one of them.
STN: Thank you, Jesus. See you on July 10 in Reno.