Bus Drivers Cope with Challenges as Routes are Combined
In Sept. 2012, a conflict occurred on an RTA bus between driver Artis Hughes and his passenger. The passenger yelled in Hughes’ face, and he punched her. The incident was captured on video, which became viral and caused concern about safety and civility on Cleveland buses.Hughes was fired.
Beachwood’s school bus drivers are much more patient than Hughes, but they also have to deal with uncivil passengers.
This school year, the Beachwood City Schools transportation department combined middle school and high school busing. On one hand, this is good because it allows the district to save money.
However, on some routes the bus is packed. On one occasion, this reporter observed several people seated three to a seat, and nine students standing in the aisle while the bus was in motion. This resulted in some middle schoolers fighting to get on the bus first so they could get a seat.
After calls to the dept. of transportation by many families, this particular route was split up into two separate routes, but bad behavior persisted.
A common problem with the new busing system is that some high school students refuse to share a seat with middle schoolers, even when seats are at a premium.
“I don’t like sitting three to a seat. It’s way too crowded and uncomfortable,” explained freshman Spencer Millard.
Many high school and middle school students agree with Millard.
Seventh grader Allonda Watkins said, “I feel annoyed because high schoolers should have a different bus than middle schoolers.”
Some high school passengers stand up on the bus, scream, swear, start minor fist fights, bully their peers and throw other students’ belongings across the bus.
Assistant Principal Paul Chase said, “Each year there are a few detentions, in-school restrictions and occasionally out of school suspensions based on incidents from the bus. There has not been an increase of incidents since the middle school has been riding. It has gone well to this point.”
According to bus drivers, it seems to be the same group of high school students each time.
“Most of the students behave very nicely, but there is a handful of students who do not behave well,” said bus driver Roger Maple.
When asked for a letter grade rating the behavior of students, bus drivers’ answers ranged from A to C.
However, bus drivers work hard to manage behavioral issues, and ensure students are respecting both their peers and authorities.
“The key to helping a student is through communication between the individual driver and the school administrator [who] is dealing with the student,” said bus driver Denise Angelone.
Cameras on the bus help administrators pinpoint the students inciting problems.
“The cameras are always running and run for an amount of time after the bus is parked and shut down,” said bus driver Jackie Engelman.
The disciplinary actions bus drivers take make students feel safe, regardless of incidents that occur.
“My bus driver always handles things well,” commented eighth grader Jeremy Gloger.
Senior Aaron Paley agreed, saying “The bus drivers have always been professional.”
According to Angelone and Maple, bus drivers change students’ seats when necessary. Maple has already moved all of the high school students towards the front of the bus, and allowed middle school students to sit in the back. This allows him to keep an eye on high school students’ behavior. So far, the change has created less physical violence between problem high school students. However, there is still the same amount of yelling and profanity.
Engelman has also developed effective ways to handle bad bus behavior.
“I personally stop and secure my vehicle in a safe place and go to the student or students and have a conversation with them,” said Engelman. “If it doesn’t get resolved, I remind them that I know where they live and have access to their parents. I try not to use the write up sheets but for severe offenses.”
Ultimately, as bus driver Kerry Eaton pointed out, drivers just want to develop a good relationship with the students.
“We are the first school contact that the students have every morning and the last one every evening, it’s important to have a good relationship with the students. Respect goes both ways,” said Eaton.