If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the preventive driver and student training advised by security experts with law enforcement experience could save lives onboard a school bus.
Out of the 235 transportation directors, supervisors and fleet managers who responded to a School Transportation News magazine survey administered in March, 73 percent said that they provided their school bus drivers with training for an active shooter situation on the bus. However, only 20 percent said that they trained students on what to do in the same situation.
Hutto Independent School District just northwest of Austin, Texas, and Pittsburg Unified School District near San Francisco, are two districts that are currently conducting both driver and student training for emergencies, such as armed strangers or school bus hijackings. They instruct students and pose questions on various dangerous scenarios—Hutto ISD’s first live event with an actor playing an unidentified stranger on a bus with students is set for later this month.
Meanwhile, Jackson County Central School in southern Minnesota has had police conduct drills on-campus for attack scenarios and is discussing conducting similar drills on the school bus.
Efforts like these are what the school security discussion should not neglect, says security consultant Jesus Villahermosa, a former SWAT team member and former sheriff’s deputy in Wash. state, as well as an STN EXPO keynote speaker last summer. He has called strongly for teaching students, not just drivers and teachers, what to do in situations like an active shooter on the bus.
Other security experts like Michael Dorn, a former school resource officer and chief of police for Georgia’s Bibb County Schools (now with security assessment firm Safe Havens International), also stressed the importance of getting out ahead of a problem. In February, STN reported on a hike in student threats or incidences of bringing weapons such as guns or knives onto the school bus. In most cases, a fellow student or the bus driver alerted authorities before disaster occurred.
But Villahermosa and Dorn questioned the motivation behind such incidents. Dorn stated that feelings of being threatened or desperation may prompt students to bring weapons onto the school bus or into a school.
It all comes down to school staff, especially school bus drivers, since they are the first school adult a student has contact with, caring for and building relationships with students, said Villahermosa.
“If they trust you, they’ll tell you,” he emphasized.
Gary Moore has 34 years of law enforcement experience, 29 of which he spent on the Missouri State Patrol. He currently serves as deputy marshal for the Missouri Supreme Court and as a private safety coordinator. He emphasized the importance of school bus drivers being prepared to stop threats early—threats that could even relate to an angry parent.
Communication between school bus drivers and both students and parents is vital, said Moore. “Be slow to anger,” he advised.
Difficult family situations, for instance, can wind up a student or parent. Then, an incident or small inconvenience on the school bus can provide the trigger needed to send them over the edge into violence.
“You’re going to be doing a lot more talking than you are fighting,” said Moore. “If you have good communication skills, you can de-escalate a lot of things. If you’ve got poor skills, you’re only going to escalate them.”