RENO, Nev. — A panel of national school security experts concluded that school buses are more likely to experience violence from students or people related to students, than from outsiders.
The panel also concluded that security should be increased at bus yards, and that transportation directors should be included in the education process, to gain insights into students who misbehave on the bus.
The release of findings came during the second full day of educational sessions at the STN EXPO Conference and Trade Show.
“We have found that most of the threats to school districts and school buses are from within the school population, or from someone related to someone in that student population,” said panelist Steve Russell, a retired transportation director for Churchill County (Nevada) Schools. Russell said bus drivers must watch the demeanor of the child change, especially if the child becomes a little more aggressive than usual. “It’s amazing how much they will project their anger and their fears on the social media,” Russell said. “These are the many focuses that most transportation directors look at. This is one of the areas where we really need to focus.”
Daniel Sperry, a deputy with the Bonneville County (Idaho) Sheriff’s Department agreed, adding that while a lot of threats come from inside the school bus, bus drivers must be aware of what’s happening outside of the vehicle.
“There are totally random attacks against the school bus from the outside of the bus, whether it is vandalism or a total takeover, because it is a target of opportunity,” Sperry said. “So, we must teach the drivers to be aware of their surroundings, too.”
Jeff May, president of APEX SCF, which teaches survival techniques against physical threats, said relatives should not be overlooked. “I would agree we’re seeing most of the violence from students on the bus, but we’re also seeing threats from outside the bus by irate parents and other individuals,” he said. “We have to make sure we work on both sides of the equation.”
Panel facilitator Denny Coughlin, president of the Minnesota-based School Bus Training Company and a former fleet director for Minneapolis Public Schools, opened the discussion by saying that security needs to become a priority for school buses and bus facilities, the same as it is with school buildings. “We in the school bus industry have been almost completely neglected in the past,” Coughlin said. “We’ve been paying a lot of attention to school sites over the last 15 years or so, and we’ve practiced a lot of lockdowns and emergency drills. This seems to be where a lot of attention has gone, and we’ve been pretty much neglected until now.”
Coughlin continued, saying “deranged” individuals who attack schools are looking for numbers. He said they could double their numbers by attacking a school bus, which could have 60 to 70 students on board and one driver.
“We don’t have any ratios like that in school buildings,” he said, adding that school buses are especially vulnerable, because of the way they operate. “We make frequent stops, and we operate in areas so remote, we’re away from both 2-way and cellular communications in many parts of the country, where a police response takes 30 minutes or more. So, if there is an incident, everything is going to be done before the police even get there. We are really vulnerable. We’ve been treated like the neglected step child of this whole educational industry.”
Coughlin continued by saying that transportation facilities should be more secured, because they are a great place for someone to place explosives. “If we have no security in our transportation department, we’re an open door,” he warned. “In the United States, we haven’t really paid attention to this. It’s an area that we should look at, to get ahead of the game.”