Confronting Violence on Buses

As violence in schools becomes more prevalent, those in positions of authority have to take charge to keep students and staff safe. One area of concern is violence on the school bus. Specifically, what should a school bus driver do when confronted by a student with a deadly weapon? As with most general questions, there is no one answer, nor are there any absolute rules. Every situation is unique, and clear thinking on the school bus driver's part is a necessity.

First, you must determine what your district considers a weapon, as well as what potentially could be used as a weapon. Obviously, guns and knives are weapons. Chemical mace also is a weapon; so are baseball bats and screwdrivers. Even pens can be turned into weapons in times of anger. A student might bring a hockey stick onto a school bus to use in an athletic game during or after school, but if it is used in anger, it becomes a weapon. It can be difficult to determine this as students are boarding the bus.

Analyzing the situation There are some general guidelines for school bus drivers to follow when confronted by a student with a weapon:

-If a student is observed carrying a weapon prior to boarding a school bus, deny that person access to the bus. Tell the student that he or she is violating the law and will be reported. -If a student is observed carrying a weapon after leaving the bus, or if it is discovered later, then school administration should be notified, as well as school-bus supervisors. -If a weapon is observed after a student boards the school bus and all is calm, the bus driver should avoid conflict, if at all possible. There are other passengers who could be injured in a confrontation. The best advice here is to drive calmly but, at the first opportunity, call school administration or police.

Depending on the situation aboard the school bus, it may be necessary to drive to a police station, firehouse or the nearest school. The first concern is to get the weapon off the bus so that the driver and students remain unharmed.

Thinking quickly If there is a conflict aboard the school bus, the driver should stop the bus in a safe place. If a weapon is involved in a conflict between students, the driver should begin evacuating non-involved students out the front and back doors of the bus.

Next, the bus driver should intervene in the conflict. Intervention may be shouting at the participants or it may be physical involvement. The best tactic for the driver is to be calm, talk in a firm manner and not threaten the weapon holder.

The bus driver has the right to physically protect students from attack. However, this situation is the most likely to cause injury to the driver or students. The student with the weapon probably is scared and not thinking clearly. Hopefully, the fact that the front and rear doors are open will allow the assailant a clear avenue of escape.

Unfortunately, there is the possibility of a driver being attacked by a student with a weapon. If attacked, any person has the right to defend himself or herself as necessary. Most state laws allow the use of only the amount of force necessary to overcome the attacker. The "reasonable person" rule then comes into play. That is, what would a reasonable person do in a similar situation?

For example, if a mature teenage student were seriously threatening a school bus driver with a club, the driver might spray his attacker with the fire extinguisher in order to escape. But if the driver were being hit by the club and serious injury was likely, the driver also might hit the attacker with the fire extinguisher. Hitting the student with the extinguisher may cause bodily harm, but under the circumstances, it seems justified. But if the student threatening the bus driver were 9 years old, the above defense may be deemed unjustified and unreasonable.

Using common sense Experience has shown that when threatened, individuals have a better chance for non-injury if they run rather than fight. To what extent a school bus driver is held responsible for the students on the bus is determined by each jurisdiction. Most importantly, the driver must have the ability to use common sense and react quickly in an unpredictable and possibly violent situation.

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