We’ve all known since kindergarten that riding the school bus is usually pretty awful.
But then you get an incident like what happened in the Broadalbin-Perth school district in February, in which a 16-year-old boy sexually assaulted a 4-year-old riding with him on the bus.
And it makes you wonder if schools are doing enough to keep our kids safe.
It shouldn’t matter how busy or distracted the driver is, how high the seats backs are or how many cameras are on the bus. There’s absolutely no way a child should be able to be assaulted, sexually or otherwise, while riding on a school bus.
In this case, one has to wonder how this teenager and this 4-year-old could be in such close proximity to one another, and how other students on the bus didn’t see what was going on and/or didn’t report it.
But somehow, it happened. And bullying and violence continues to be a problem on buses.
School districts can no longer take half-hearted measures to address this long-standing problem.
Separating the high school kids from the elementary- and middle-school kids is one step that all districts can and should take immediately during the summer in planning next year’s bus routes.
District officials also should consider setting up a system of adult bus monitors. We understand paying adults to ride buses could get expensive. But it might be cheaper than buying movable cameras that can see between the seats.
And maybe, if parents are so concerned, they could organize a system of volunteer bus monitors to help out.
District officials also need to heed the advice of former elementary school principal Jim Dillon of Niskayuna, who has studied and written about how to change the bullying culture on school buses.
(Read more about him here, in Sara Foss’ April 29 column.)
The culture change should include instructing kids on reporting violent or dangerous situations in real time.
State lawmakers also should be taking this problem seriously.
One proposed bill (A1372A/S2482A) would set up a state school transportation task force, which would review existing state laws, regulations and programs, and make recommendations for safety improvements.
After such a task force issues its report, districts would then have some consistent guidelines to follow. Set it up.
Other legislation (A7538A/S5705) would require involving bus drivers and bus aides in safety planning, in order to take advantage of their expertise.
Lawmakers and state Education Department officials also should seek out ways to fund bus-safety educational programs and to pay bus monitors. Education is a state responsibility, and the state has an obligation to support local efforts.
When a parent puts their child on a school bus, they expect them to come home safely, without having been intimidated, threatened or assaulted.
School districts and the state must do more. Waiting to act isn’t an option.