Everyone knows to tell their kids to stay on the sidewalk until the bus doors open. We've reminded them to be careful crossing the street. However, once the bus departs and our kids are out of sight, we can only wonder what will happen between home and school.
"The time spent on the bus has to be considered as a part of the school day," says Dr. Colleen Cicchetti, pediatric psychiatrist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Parents and school officials need to be proactive and set the tone at the beginning of the year."
Three things to keep in mind:
When kids are on the bus, their words and actions are essentially unsupervised. A bus driver needs to concentrate on driving and can't react to every bad name or rude comment.
According to Cicchetti, most school bus bullying occurs on the way home as kids transition from a structured day to a mostly unsupervised ride. Even in middle school, children may still have difficulty with transitions and act out. If your child is being bullied and is not in immediate danger, give them a chance to resolve their problems before pulling them off the bus.
"Tell your child to choose their seat on the bus wisely. Encourage them to continue talking to you, too," says Cicchetti. "Pulling your kids off the bus without giving them a chance to change things just creates fear."
If bullying affects your family, ask your principal to hold assemblies teaching school bus manners and to make sure bullies are held accountable for their behavior.
It is every parent's worst nightmare to hear a local school bus is involved in a crash. Though the casualties are small in bus crashes, no parent wants their child to be the statistic.
Illinois school buses do not require seat belts, but seat backs must be at least 28 inches tall (4 inches taller than the national average) to protect children in a crash. Training and background checks are also mandatory for all school bus drivers.
If you have any safety concerns about the school bus, talk to your school administrators. If lack of seat belts worries you, contact your local legislator and encourage them to vote for a seat belt law.
Most school buses manufactured before 2006 release diesel fumes that contain dangerous levels of fine particulate matter, which can aggravate asthma and other conditions. Although many school districts have taken steps to use only newer buses, some districts still have older buses.
Darwin Burkhart, a dad and manager of Clean Air Programs with the Illinois EPA, says even if schools cannot afford new buses or retrofits to reduce emissions on older buses, there are ways to protect schoolchildren.
"Buses spend a lot of time idling while they wait for kids to board," says Burkhart. "Simply turning the bus off cuts down dramatically on harmful emissions. Parents can encourage their school district to establish an anti-idling policy."
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. Visit her on the Web at www.michellesussman.com .