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Bullying on the School Bus

Bullying, whether on the playground, in class or on the bus, came to pass long before many of us treaded the tiled halls of our elementary, middle and high schools.


Although the subject has been the centerpiece of many studies over the years, only recently did a researcher focus on its existence on the ride to and from school. In her recent study, entitled “Bullying on the School Bus: A Video Analysis,” Dr. Juliana Raskauskas highlights episodes that many would like to forget.

“I chose to conduct this study because, in my research with traditional bullying at school, a percentage of students in my doctoral dissertation had identified being bullied on the way to and from school,” said Dr. Raskauskas. “The majority of them listed the school bus as a key location where they were bullied. When I examined the literature, I discovered that there were no existing studies looking at bullying on the school bus.”

The school district used in the study, an unidentified large Northern California district was selected because of the existence of video surveillance within its buses for a number of years.

“I can see why it has hardly been studied previously,” said Raskauskas. “It is difficult to observe this behavior without influencing the way students act. I was very lucky to have access to the video tapes of a district that had cameras in all buses and that had used video surveillance for several years.”

The purpose of the study, which was published in the Journal of School Violence (2005, Vol. 4, Issue 3), was to evaluate the different forms or bullying, the number of incidents, the severity of the incidences, gender differentiation and whether the presence of friends had an effect on the bullying. “Bullying in the United States is faced by as many as 60 percent to 80 percent of children during their school career,” the study found.

Dr. Raskauskas went into the study with two hypotheses: buses with less open seats available are more susceptible to bullying and children who have no friends on the bus are more at risk than others. The tapes, randomly selected over a two-month period, were each viewed twice. During the first screening, the bullying incidents were coded for episode time, the genders of those involved, the number of students present on board, the type of bullying (physical, verbal or psychological/exclusion), and whether the victim had a friend on the bus. During the second viewing, a narrative log described the interaction of the victim and their peers, both those involved and not involved in the bullying, and the response of the bus driver.

The results seemed to prove Dr. Raskauskas’ theory that buses with more students had more incidences of bullying. Her second presumption, that students without friends on the bus would be more prone to become targets, was unconfirmed.

According to Dr. Raskauskas, the bus drivers attempted to deter the physical bullying but did not intervene as much during other forms of bullying.

“The drivers who were most effective were those who knew the names of the students and could call on them immediately when a problem arose. However, the most serious bullying occurred when bus drivers were loading or unloading students,” said Raskauskas.

The information gathered in the study could benefit other school districts across the country. “I believe that the supervision on buses needs to be reviewed,” offered Dr. Raskauskas. “The fact that one adult is expected to both drive and manage 60 students is a little short-sighted. Additional adult supervision on the bus would help to manage student behavior better. Also, buses that had rules for entering and leaving the bus — as far as keeping students seated and dismissing by rows — had less bullying.”

Since the completion of the study, the district involved has taken steps to prevent these types of situations from occurring. Aside from making bullying unacceptable and using citations as a punishment, the schools are keeping in touch with the parents of offenders. New drivers are also given training in identifying and addressing bullying.

Study Information:

  • Out of 30 bus rides, 53 episodes of bullying occurred for an average of two episodes every 25 minutes.
  • The episodes lasted from less than one second to 15 minutes, with the average being 2.86 minutes.
  • Almost 50 percent consisted of physical bullying, 35 percent verbal bullying, 38 percent psychological bullying, and 21 percent included two or more types.
  • Of the 107 bullies, 76 were male and 31 were female, while 32 of the victims were female and 22 were male.
  • 20 percent of victims had no friend on the bus, 57 percent had a friend who was not involved in the bullying, and nearly a quarter had a friend who contributed to the bullying.
  • More than half of the buses were full, over a third were half-full and about 10 percent were hardly full.

Reprinted from the February 2007 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.

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