Bullying on the School Bus and What We Can Do About It

November 9 2016


  • William Grace Frost, Strategic Relations Director
    William Grace Frost
    Strategic Relations Director
  • Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters
    Rick Phillips
    Founder, Community Matters

Schools are experiencing increased incidents of bullying, cyber-bullying and harassment and this trend is often manifested on the vehicles that carry children to and from school.

Far too often, students who begin or end their day with what should be a peaceful and fun time, instead find themselves the targets of teasing, taunting or isolation on their school bus. In a qualitative study of school bus bullying, students reported experiencing more fear while riding the bus than any other time during the school day (deLara 2008).

Approximately 24 million K-12 students ride school buses each school day in the United States, equaling approximately 10 billion student rides annually (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration). And the students aren’t the only ones affected. In studies by Blasko (2007) and Neal (2004) it was determined that many bus drivers said that “misbehavior from students—including bullying, horseplay, screaming and fighting—is one of the most challenging aspects of the job.”

Unfortunately, even though there’s always an adult close at hand to deter negative behaviors, bus drivers are often not able to respond in a timely or effective manner due to:

  • the need for their primary focus to be on safe driving;
  • not being able to personally witness incidents;
  • not knowing what to do or how to intervene.

The Bus Driver Solution: Connection, Relationship and Positive Climate

The solution for bus drivers is in being trained in skills to cultivate a positive climate in their vehicle and to create a trusting connection with their riders. Drivers can become “asset building adults” by recognizing the importance of connecting with kids, caring about them as individuals, and supporting and protecting them by managing behaviors proactively and responsively, rather than just reactively.

Additionally, getting further training in bullying prevention and intervention will give them the additional skills and confidence to safely and effectively intervene and correct behavior. Doing so can help them accomplish their job more safely and effectively, with fewer discipline issues.

The Student Solution: Awareness, Courage and Competence

Young people are powerful, but adults don’t always recognize their capacity to be peacemakers and change agents. Seeing a young person who has been “awakened” and is choosing to speak up is both inspirational, and effective, whether they’re on the playground, in the school hallways or on a bus.

Empowering students with the confidence and competence to intervene in these situations also makes sense because we know that:

  • Students see, hear and know things that adults don’t;
  • They’re right there when the incident happens, often when the driver has no idea an incident is taking place;
  • They can influence one another, positively or negatively, in ways that adults can’t;
  • They’re the ones that establish the social norms on the bus and at school.

When students are trained to speak up, they interrupt, de-escalate and often stop incidents from escalating and becoming offenses.

When bus drivers are trained to be engaged, and trusted relational adults and students are trained to “look out for one another” by being courageous and skillful in defusing and preventing harassment, our school buses can be the safe, welcoming and friendly places they’re intended to be.

More information on bus driver bullying prevention and intervention training and on empowering students to be the change agents of school culture is available on our website, or contact Community Matters to learn more.

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