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Foss: Do more to protect students on the bus

Foss: Do more to protect students on the bus

Foss: Do more to protect students on the bus
Photographer: SHUTTERSTOCK

The school bus never felt safe to me. 

There were bullies on every ride, and they zeroed in on the most vulnerable student on board and tormented him or her for the duration of the ride. 

I don't remember anyone ever being held accountable or reprimanded for their cruelty, which was generally treated as an unfortunate but unchangeable fact of life. It was always a relief to disembark and disappear into the hallways at school. 

Reading Gazette reporter Jason Subik's article from earlier this week about school bus-related safety concerns in the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District brought up all kinds of memories, none of them good. 

Officials aren't saying much about what happened. 

There was an incident, described by Superintendent Stephen M. Tomlinson as a "serious behavior concern on one of our buses," that resulted in the "alleged perpetrator's" removal from school. 

Also: The district plans to put its elementary and secondary students on separate buses starting in May. 

That's a significant change, and also a good one.

In fact, I'd recommend other districts consider making it, especially if they lack bus monitors or cameras.

School bus bullying doesn't get a whole lot of attention, but every once in a while an egregious example bubbles into the public consciousness, raising age-old concerns about the "survival of the fittest" mentality that prevails on America's school buses. 

"Why are buses so conducive to bullying?" an article on the news site Slate pondered in 2012, after a bus monitor was viciously taunted by a group of seventh grade boys. 

"When I asked my Slate colleagues for their thoughts, there was general agreement that buses were a rough place," writer Jeremy Stahl mused. "One colleague said the two worst incidents of bullying her child ever faced were both on a school bus. Another said that his mother, a public school teacher, arranged a car pool for him so he would not have to deal with the sort of abuses she knew occurred on school buses." 

In a 2016 National Center for Education Statistics report, 10 percent of bullied students reported that they were bullied on the buses. 

That's way too high, and more than justifies transporting younger and older students to school on different buses. And while separating students might not solve the problem of school bus bullying in its entirety, it's a good start. 

In my experience, school bus bullies come in all shapes and sizes, and it's not unusual for students to bully peers they perceive as weak or weird, or for younger bullies to team up with older bullies.

My approach to riding the bus was to keep my head down, avoid eye contact and pretend to be invisible. The idea that the bus driver might help me -- or any other student on the bus -- never crossed my mind. Surely we can do better. 

I suspect that attempting to address the problem of school bus bullying will make a difference, because it so often goes unaddressed. At a Broadalbin-Perth school board meeting earlier this week, residents complained that they had tried to alert the district to problems on the buses, to no avail.  

Of course, the incident that prompted Broadalbin-Perth to do this might have been criminal in nature. 

Officials have cited the state's Raise the Age legislation, which raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, as a reason they can't divulge more about what happened on the bus. 

That's unfortunate, because parents deserve answers about what happened. Without crucial information, it's hard for the public to assess whether the district has enough to address the underlying problems.

In the 20-plus years since I graduated from high school, bullying has received a lot of attention. 

It's now regarded as a problem to be solved, rather than something unlucky students must endure. 

That's progress. 

But we still have a long way to go, as the Broadalbin-Perth incident reminds us. 

No child deserves to be mistreated or abused on the school bus.

It's as simple as that. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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