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Dangers of the School Bus

22 December 2007 269 views 7 Comments

Summer’s post over at Mom is Teaching (a few months back), regarding sexual assault in schools, reminded me of a topic that I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile: the real risks parents take when they send their kids to school on the school bus. As a homeschooling family, this is yet another risk that we thankfully don’t have to worry about. But I am still dealing with the psychological ramifications of my own experiences on the school bus, and I see my nephews being confronted with danger at every turn. So I thought I would tell my story. It helps to write about it.

All this thinking about the school bus began when friends of ours, who happen to work as teachers in public schools, told us that they wanted to make sure that they allowed their children to ride the bus to school. Since one of these parents works in the school that their children attend, they could easily drive their children to school themselves. But they think the experience of riding the school bus is important and good for their children. I’ve heard other parents echo those same beliefs, even dangling the whole “exciting” idea of riding the school bus like a carrot in front of new kindergarten kids. I think they are crazy. Here’s why…

Starting when I was 5 years old, in kindergarten, my horrible school bus experiences began. It all started just a few weeks into the beginning of school. On our bus rides home, some of the older kids (3rd or 4th grade?) began pressuring a little kindergarten girl and boy to kiss each other. I was just a bystander in this situation, but it made me intensely uncomfortable. Going to school and riding a bus was intimidating enough, but being forced to watch this harassment was terrible. The little girl’s feelings were obvious – she did not want to participate. But the pressure from the older kids was intense. This was probably the first time I was exposed to a situation were I was aware of some kind of sexuality going on. And of course I was alone, without my parent’s guidance. The bus driver, by the way, seemed totally oblivious to it all. It went on for weeks. I never told my parents about it. I was too embarrassed.

Fast forward about 4 years. This Mean Girl rode the bus with me. I’m not sure why she seemed to dislike me so much. Looking back, I think she had a variety of emotional problems that I didn’t fully understand at the time. Lots of other kids would make fun of her, although I never did. I was very shy, quiet, nice. Maybe that made me a good victim? But regardless of the cause, she disliked me. I don’t think I ever expected it to get past the “dislike” phase. But out of the blue one day, she slid into my seat on the bus. I was against the window and she was seated on the aisle. We had a lot of privacy because the bus had very high seat-backs. I doubt the driver could have seen more than the top of our heads. I was wearing long earings, which Mean Girl complimented. I was surprised – maybe she liked me, after all! How naive I was. Before I even knew what has happening, she had yanked my long hair downward toward the floor, so my head was practically between my knees. In her other hand, she had a firm hold on one of my earings. She told me that if I moved, she would yank my earing out. I was scared. My head hurt from the hair pulling and I was afraid that she would rip my earlobe if I resisted. She had me trapped in the seat, and no one could see what was happening to me. I can’t remember exactly how long this went on, or what she said to me during this time. What I remember is being powerless. Eventually my stop came, and she let me go without hurting me physically. My head was sore, but I was OK. But I still remember how powerless I was in those moments.

Fast forward another year. It was 5th grade and I had just entered the Middle School in my district, which covered 5th to 8th grades. I was still very young. Puberty had not hit me yet. The 8th graders that I went to school with were huge compared to me. I rode on a pretty crowded bus. Since there were rarely many seats, I often had to sit near the back of the bus, where a bunch of rowdy 8th grade boys would sit. One day, on the way home from school, I was sitting near the back of the bus when one of the tallest of the 8th grade boys slid into the seat next to me. This boy was very big and looked more like a high school kid. As he slid into the seat, I saw that a bunch of his friends were getting into seats all around me. I was confused at first when I glanced up at the guy, but I was also worried. I felt trapped. He started sliding in closer and closer to me in this weird sexual way with a funny look on his face. His friends were all watching and quietly chuckling. Then he started taking his shirt off. At this point I was panicking. I had no idea how far this might go, but I was both embarrassed and repulsed. I sort of hunched down and got as close to the window as possible. The boy had his shirt completely off and was rubbing his chest against me as much as he was able to. I think he said some sexual things to me, but I’ve blocked that out. Nothing else happened. He finally put on his shirt and got up and all his friends laughed and eventually walked back to their seats. I was humiliated and scared. I wouldn’t say I was assaulted, and yet this experience colored my entire year. For one thing, I was petrified of sitting anywhere near the back of the bus for the entire year. I was also unable to walk through the “8th grade hallway” at school for the entire year. This was pretty hard for me since that hallway connected many of the places I needed to walk to in school. When I was walking with friends that year and we got to that hallway, I’d make little excuses about why I needed to take another route. I think all my friends thought I was crazy, but I was too embarrassed to tell them why. I’ve thought about this experience many times since then, and I can still feel that boy rubbing against me and feel the panic inside.

Recently my sister told me about some things that have been happening to my nephews on the school bus. It seems that last year they had an abusive bus driver. The bus driver would get so angry at the kids that he would stop the bus and walk back and tell the kids he would hit them if they didn’t behave. Then he’d say things like, “Shut the fuck up!” to them. And he told several of them later that if they told on him that he’d, “fucking kill them”. The next day he would bring all the kids donuts. Then the cycle would repeat. He never actually hit any of them, but he did verbally terrorize them. None of the kids ever told on him. NONE. For months this went on. I can’t remember now how my sister ended up finding out about it. But she did. When she complained to the district, they interviewed the kids and eventually had the driver on that route replaced. But was the driver actually fired? NO! It seems the district has no power to have him fired because they get their drivers from a bus company. No one at the district seemed to care that the driver might very well be working at another school district tomorrow. This all took place last school year. This school year, my nephews went out to the school bus just like they always do for the first day of school in September. Guess who the driver was. The same guy!!

And just to be sure I’ve painted a full picture, the school district that all these things happened in wasn’t some “bad district” or anything (whatever that means). This district is known as a great school district. Not too large, in a pretty affluent area, excellent test scores, excellent graduation rate, excellent rate going on to colleges, excellent rates going on to Ivy League schools. The reason I mention this is that I sometimes think that parents in this lovely suburbia where I live like to delude themselves. They like to think that these kind of things don’t happen in their “good district”. After all, this is why they’ve paid an extra 100K for their house, right? These kinds of things happen on school buses everywhere, I am sure. And it’s not going to be taken care of by doing better background checks on bus drivers, or by putting larger mirrors or video imaging in the hands of the driver.

Look, I don’t plan to ever send my kids to school if I can help it, and my main reasons generally have nothing to do with the school bus. But when I hear parents harping about how exciting it is that their kids get to ride a school bus, I cringe. There is nothing particularly safe and exciting about letting your 5-year old child get on a bus with a bunch of strangers and have basically no supervision. It can be dangerous.


  • sk-rt.com said:

    Dangers of the School Bus…

    Riding the school bus can new and exciting, but it can also be terrifiying and scary. And you never know what might to your children….

  • Summer said:

    I’ve never had to ride the bus, thank goodness. But I’ve heard of instances of assualts and abuse happening on the bus with no adults there to take control of the situation. Or worse, the adults are the ones doing the assualts. There was a local news story here a while back about a boy who got in trouble after school and missed his bus. The teacher on bus duty just stuck him on the next bus and he ended up being dropped off across the city where he was completely lost. He was only 7. He was found curled up behind a car crying, and the man who found him was a registered sex offender. Luckily the man called the police rather than what could have happened to that scared little boy.

  • Chad said:

    Hope you are in good health, because you are going to get tired following your children around a college campus. Oops, they have online classes now, so you’ll need to update to business type wardrobe.

    Your ‘story’ only shows the failings of parents, yours included. I teach my kids at home at every opportunity, and my 5 year old would not only tell whomever asked them to do such a thing to ‘take a hike’, but she would also speak up on behalf of another child who was about to do something inappropriate. Completely sheltering your children by homeschooling them is sad, and I feel sorry for them. Your inability to trust your own parenting skills is preventing them from having more friends and preparing them for life…REAL LIFE.

    We all have stories that start out, “I’ve heard….” or you have a friend of a friend who had a bad experience doing ‘x’. Yep, terrible things happen all over the world and to everyone….instead of using this website as your personal therapy because you had a run-in with a ‘mean girl’, use this time teaching your children how to handle such a situation….oh, well I guess they won’t encounter that situation because you’ve taken that away from them. So now they will encounter a completely different set of trials that you won’t have any experience handling.

    You know, of all the kids in college I encountered at parties who were out of control, a strangely large percentage of them were home schooled. Strange? Not really, because they were finally ‘free’, and had no idea how to handle peer pressure or anything else that goes along with it. I could go on and on, especially if you wanted to talk about sexually active students.

    Just my $.02…and for your kids sake, let go, and let them live.

  • Trish (author) said:

    Why is it that people who criticize parenting decisions always use that old, “They are going to still be doing N in college” argument? Also, there is always this assumption that the parent in question doesn’t want their child to grow up, and will actually do anything to prevent that.

    I’m pretty confident that even if my children don’t ride the school bus now, they will still be perfectly able to ride a public bus by the time they are adults. I’m also pretty confident that I’m also doing my best to foster age-appropriate independence in my children. I just don’t happen to think that purposely putting my child in a situation where there is no adult supervision, or supervision by adult strangers, is the best course of action, and certainly not age-appropriate.

    You also basically say that my own stories hold no weight because they are just stories of one person who basically had a few bad things happen to her. Well, your stupid college story also suffers from that same problem. Why should I take your experiences with a few previously homeschooled college students seriously? I certainly don’t suggest that all the things that have happened to me will happen to other children. Just that putting children in a situation with no adult supervision at a young age is not without risk.

    If you want to learn the definition of free, you might try looking up the definition of unschooling.

  • Arp said:

    I’m far past the time of feeling insecure or guilty about how we’re raising our kids. I have met many homeschooling or unschooling parents whose children are far away more mature, self assured and confident than their peers. Here’s one story about a homeschooled girl, now a happily married adult, and how she dealt with a dose of ‘real life:’

    Regarding knowing how to handle social problems. She had a boy sexually harassing her. She wrote a letter to the principal explaining the situation, requiring him to fix the problem. She asked my wife to proof read it. The Principal handled the situation immediately and sent her and us a letter apologizing for the school and assuring us that there would be no more problem. I, who was educated in Public Schools had a simpler solution – I wanted to stuff him into a trash can. Now, who isn’t socially adept?

    There’s a common belief in the US that children need to be forced to mature by being smacked in the face by the unpleasant realities of life. One acquaintance told me that children need to be bullied, but doesn’t seem to make any effort make sure his children go to a school where they have a better chance of being bullied. It’s a load of crap, just an idea that people accept without giving more than a cursory thought. I don’t buy the idea that you have to ‘go through something’ to make the end result more worthwhile. It’s perpetuated by people who just want others to experience their own degredation, humiliation or frustration.

    Another misconception is that these experiences in school are a precursor to ‘real life.’ I haven’t been bullied in years and don’t know anyone who has. Daytime rides in crowded public buses are safe for the vast majority of people. And a bus driver who wants to threaten a passenger usually refrains since they don’t want to risk losing their job. All this school age nonsense has nothing to do with ‘real life.’

  • Karla Maria said:

    $.02 is just about how much Chad’s post is worth. REAL LIFE? I haven’t taken a school bus in over 25 years. School buses are not real life.

  • Arp said:

    Well, what if people rode on public buses as adults as if they were school buses? I know what I’d do. I’d yell loudly and incessantly just to piss the bus driver off. I would definitely yell random stuff out the windows at people on the street. And I’d have to play ‘Superman’ and jump wildly from seat to seat. I’m sure all the other passengers would love this sort of ‘real life’ to intrude on them :-P