Several recent incidents of adults trespassing on school buses have revived the conversation of how to best protect students and drivers. The incidents have also added another layer of depth to the conversation around school bus security.
An incident on an Indiana school bus prompted a mother to seek solutions. Local news channel RTV6 spoke to the mother, who said that a man boarded her son’s Shelby Eastern Schools school bus on Aug. 14 and threatened the boy about something he did not do, adding that he would come after the student at his school.
The district fired the bus driver for allowing the incident to occur, which satisfied the mother. But she also sought to prosecute the man who threatened her son. Prosecutor Brad Landwerlen from the Shelby County Prosecutor’s Office told her and the news channel that he could not take legal action against the bus trespasser, because the bus driver had failed to give a verbal warning about unlawfully boarding the bus. There was also no signage posted that said trespassing on the bus is a crime.
Michael LaRocco, director of school transportation for the Indiana Department of Education, and DOE spokesman Adam Baker commented that a bigger issue is that the bus driver seemed to know the man and voluntarily opened the door for him. That, LaRocco told STN, is something every bus driver in the state is instructed against in the mandatory training they receive as a new hire.
“It wasn’t someone that showed up at a bus stop and just jumped on a bus. They were given permission by the driver,” Baker explained. “So that in and of itself, obviously, is a concern and an issue that had to be addressed by the local district as well as will be addressed in our future training. Whether you know the person or not, don’t let them on.”
“The driver should determine who should and who should not be allowed on that bus,” added LaRocco. “And, essentially, if they’re not staff members of the school district, they should not let anybody on the bus.”
This incident further underscores the importance that driver behavior has on student safety, notwithstanding what laws are in place. Indiana law already clarifies the school bus as an extension of the classroom, and “No Trespassing” signage is permitted as an option on school bus steps, LaRocco said. He added that DOE best practice and driver training both say that no one but students and school staff should be on a school bus, except in cases of a parent or guardian being needed to help secure special-needs students.
“You just never know,” he said. “Even when you know parents, and you know them personally, that doesn’t mean that something couldn’t happen. In this case, the bus driver let this particular person get on and this person yelled at kids that were not even the subject of what he was upset about. This was a bad situation all around.”
The other mistake the driver made was to stand back and not come to the student’s aide, once the harassing began, LaRocco explained. “A; he should have never let them on. B; if you do let someone on and all of a sudden the parent starts to be disruptive, then you need to address it.”
He explained that the mother may not have many options, due to the prosecutor’s legal interpretation that he could not prosecute the intruder. Legislation may also be necessary to charge anyone who boards a school bus, with or without permission. The state school bus committee could add language to the state specifications requiring “no trespassing” signage on all 16,200-plus school buses in the state, but LaRocco said that will quickly get costly.
Responsibility also falls to the districts, he said, so they will want to consider updating their policies with anti-trespassing language and educating the families of the community on it. Some, like Escambia County School District in Florida, are already realizing the importance of the issue and taking proactive steps.
The district shared how it “initiated the effort to close the loophole in the law that excluded school buses from the school trespassing statute.” They worked with state Rep. Frank White to get that law passed in March and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in April. It went into effect in July and makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to trespass on a school bus.
“Many thanks to Florida Rep. Frank White for his hard work and diligence in pushing this initiative through the legislature and for personally keeping us informed of the bill’s progress. This initiative would not have succeeded without his personal intervention,” the district said.
Rep. White, in turn, thanked recently retired Transportation Director Rob Doss “for bringing the problem to my attention and for doing all you can to keep our kids safe on school buses in Escambia County, including two of my boys.”
Tennessee state law states that “no person shall enter onto school buses, or during school hours, enter upon the grounds or into the buildings of any school, except students assigned to that bus or school, the staff of the school, parents of students and other persons with lawful and valid business on the bus or school premises.”
Tennessee district Greeneville City Schools stated on Oct. 1 that it was erecting new anti-trespassing signs on all of its campuses. STN’s inquiries as to whether such signage was also added to school buses had not been responded to at the time of this report.
Sometimes, despite the best efforts of districts and school bus drivers, incidents still happen.
For instance, one morning at the end of September, WCNC reported, an assault took place on a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus, when a man forced his way onto the vehicle, pushed the driver who was trying to stop him, and struck a male student.
After apprising parents of what had happened, Albemarle Middle School Principal Toni Perry stated that since it is “a trespassing violation for anyone unauthorized to board a school bus, this matter is now a law enforcement issue.”
“Unauthorized persons, including parents and guardians, are not permitted on buses without permission from the principal,” CMS states on its transportation page. “Entering a school bus without permission is unlawful by North Carolina law and the violator could receive a trespassing charge. School bus rules and actions of school bus drivers are for the safety of our children.”
Then earlier this month, a school bus driver for Fairfield City Schools in Ohio was threatened by the parent of a student she wrote up for behavior issues, reported the Journal News. Police said the parent said that the parent yelled and used foul language as she told the driver to “never write her daughter up again, or else she would regret it.”
The driver and transportation department are reportedly pressing charges, since the parent held other students off the bus and made a disturbance.