Conversations about student safety are aided by school bus security training conducted by the likes of law enforcement veteran Jesus Villahermosa.
An attendee at a workshop Villahermosa led during the STN EXPO last July on the topic of active shooter situations on school buses commented that schools are becoming more guarded, leaving buses as bigger targets. Villahermosa concurred and noted that bus drivers should focus on being vigilant and making decisions.
A former sheriff's deputy and past SWAT member, Villahermosa first advised a change in attitude toward crisis situations on a school bus. "In a crisis situation, rules, policies and procedures go out the window," he said, adding that drivers in particular must overcome hurdles in thought bred by cultural politeness in order to be aggressive when necessary.
Villahermosa shared that the school bus is safest when it is moving because the driver is constantly scanning for dangers and threats. "When you're stopped, you're not checking your surroundings and mirrors because you're watching the kids—and there are threats around," he reminded.
He identified school bus stops as potential danger zones since a person can cover 25 feet in under two seconds, and students entering and exiting a bus can cause confusion to create an opportunity for strangers. Villahermosa encouraged drivers to be trained in scanning surroundings at each bus stop. If someone appears to be lurking behind a tree or bush, the driver should give dispatch a description over the radio. If a stranger ignores verbal commands and tries to board the bus, politeness goes out the window—the driver must be forceful in ordering them away, close the door, drive off, or hit them if needed.
Villahermosa advised supervisors to have their drivers practice driving techniques like swerving the school bus to knock a shooter off balance, doing a brake-check, or rapidly backing up the bus. Students also need training, he said. "Teach kids to be aware of what exit they're closest to and they can fit through," he said, whether that's over or under seats, out a window, through emergency doors or a roof hatch. He added that while 10 out of the 13 killed at Columbine were found shot under desks, 23 out of 24 people shot while running survived.
Students with harmful intentions can pose the greatest threat, but Villahermosa stressed that the aware and caring driver can be the best line of defense. "Body language can't be hidden," he said, "You need to read the signs."
"Note how students are standing or sitting," he said. If a student won't make eye contact, keeps looking the driver's way but appears not to, has their hands in their pockets or behind their back, appears interested in one particular student, or is on edge, they may have a weapon or have other destructive plans.
While drivers must be authoritative, assertive and confident, Villahermosa advised them to also be involved with the students who board their buses. He urged drivers to use empathy and validation to make a connection with each student, and especially ones that have been observed to show trouble signs. "Drivers are the first line of defense," he said. "If students trust you, they'll tell you."
Editor's note: Submit a workshop proposal or idea for the 2018 STN EXPO at stnonline.com/expo/call-for-proposals.html.
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