Ed Wasek spent five years as a bus driver in St. Charles School District 303, and he was stunned over how cruel the kids were to each other.
“They have no respect for people,” he said. “They call teachers names, and they call each other the same thing, and they don’t follow the rules. … I’ve had buses with cameras, and the kids mock the camera.”
Wasek’s story does not appear to be unique. When those who have been bullied decide to come forward about their stories, the bus ride often is mentioned. A lot of bullying shown in graphic detail in the movie “Bully” centered around the bus. And there was much attention paid this year when a video was released, showing a 68-year-old bus monitor from New York state getting heckled by bullies.
School officials acknowledge the bus is a trouble area. In St. Charles, spokesman Jim Blaney said the school district’s transportation department takes safety seriously and works to make sure bus drivers have training. But Wasek, who no longer is a bus driver, said he simply could not concentrate on disciplining the kids when he was trying to get the bus safely to its destinations.
“The bus driver doesn’t have the time to be the police officer on that bus,” Wasek said.
Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser, who gives presentations on bullying, said buses can be prime areas where bullying takes place.
“Buses are easy for physical violence,” she said. “There are not a lot of people watching, and we all know that bus chairs are very tall and that kids are not.”
It is not a new issue. A former Kaneland student, Andrea Dahlman, described having problems on the school bus, part of which can be attributed to really long bus rides, something the Kaneland school district must deal with. Some students spend more than 90 minutes on a bus each day. Kaneland Superintendent Jeff Schuler said video gathered by cameras on buses is reviewed when necessary, and he acknowledged the long drives can be an issue.
But solving the problem is difficult. Administrators talk about training bus drivers, but as Wasek said, that puts pressure on the drivers. Julie Nicolai, a Geneva native and the author of “Road Map Through Bullying,” covers the topic in her book.
In her book, which includes role-playing scenarios, a bully won’t stop kicking the back of a seat on a bus, and the bus driver says he is unable to help. The kids involved tell a teacher, and the teacher tells the principal, who gets the situation to stop.
Another author who has written about bullying, Jacqui Marchese DiMarco, said she was horrified by what she saw in the “Bully” movie, in which there is footage of a youth getting pushed, shoved and hit on a bus, and the parents talking to an administrator about the issue. In the movie, the administrator downplayed the incident, saying the kids on the bus are “as good as gold.”
DiMarco won’t let her children take a bus.
“From what I had heard, it was so bad on our buses that I wouldn’t want to subject either one of my sons to that,” DiMarco said. “There’s one person for 40 kids, and there is nobody watching. That’s when bullying happens the most. … It’s next to impossible for that one person to control all of those children.”
Jodee Blanco, a suburban-based author of two bullying books, said she believes buses can be controlled, but it would take a great amount of effort.
Seats must be assigned, she said, and those seats must be rotated on a regular basis. And drivers should be trained the same way that teachers are.
“If there is any misbehaving, the bus driver should stop the bus, turn off the engine, get out of his seat, face the students and address it,” she said. “Additionally, it’s very important that the bus driver gets to know the kids. … If the kids see the drivers as human, they are less inclined to misbehave.”
As far as the video of the New York bus monitor getting bullied, Blanco said it should be no surprise that kids would have viewed the woman, 68-year-old Karen Klein, as a target. Bus monitors can be helpful, Blanco said, but common sense must be used.
“The role is the keep the bus safe,” she said. “You need someone who has a strong personality, who can inspire respect and a little bit of fear. You don’t need a sweet, grandmotherly type. … That poor woman was thrown into a hornet’s nest without any bug spray.”
Wasek said he wants to see a monitor on every bus. He said he did try stopping the bus, but it was not effective. And the kids can’t be controlled, he said, because they know they won’t face meaningful punishment.
“They have a write-up sheet, and you can write the student up, but they don’t do anything,” Wasek said. “The parents complain. They’ll say their kid never does anything wrong. … It’s one of the reasons I quit. I just had enough.”
Blaney said district officials take such events seriously.
“We pay the same attention to incidents that may happen on our bus as the ones that happen at the school,” he said. “We don’t treat them any differently. … We do the same amount of diligence.”
• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.