By Shelley J. Thompson
How long will my child sit on the bus? How do you screen bus drivers? Are there video cameras onboard?
These are some of the questions parents are bombarding school transportation directors as summer dwindles away and the big yellow buses get ready to hit the roads again.
Meanwhile, bus companies have been training staff and reviewing safety procedures over the last few weeks. They’ve checked to make sure the first aid kits, fire extinguishers, rules of the bus and other safety measures are in place.
Some bus companies are expanding their safety equipment to include Child Check-Mate — an alarm system to remind drivers to ensure all students are off the bus before they park it for the night.
Sandy Rowe of First Student said Exeter school district has had the system for more than eight years now. This year, the system will be installed in the Chester and Sanborn school districts.
The state requires school bus drivers to pass criminal and motor vehicle background checks, as well as a physical exam.
They also receive training and are tested by the state Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles, according to the state manual for school bus drivers.
To prepare for the school year, the Eagle-Tribune asked local bus providers a series of questions about their companies, including safety records and the age of vehicles.
Below are the results of our survey. Note that certain information about buses in some districts was not available because representatives from Laidlaw Education Services and Goffstown Trucking did not return phone calls or respond to in-person inquiries over a period of more than two weeks.
Smoothing the bumpy road of school bus anxiety
By Shelley J. Thompson
First-time bus riders — and their parents — sometimes feel a bit apprehensive about getting on the school bus. That’s natural, educators say, but the trick is to get on it on the first day anyway.
“Everybody is new on that first day,” said Derry Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon, adding that even big kids get nervous about the start of school.
It’s important that parents, who often are even more anxious than their children, don’t feed into a child’s nervousness.
“Hold your tears until the bus drives away,” Hannon advises.
Larry Larsen, an Andover, Mass., psychologist, agrees.
“I think anxiety with the school bus is probably a little less prevalent (in children) than you would think,” Larsen said.
He said parents often are more uptight than their children, who in turn take cues from the adults and become frightened.
Larsen suggests parents use calm tones with their children and don’t overdo the goodbyes.
“Say goodbye and get out of there,” Larsen said. “Don’t stand around and carry on, kissing the kid goodbye.”
Children will be more frightened if parents hover saying things like, “Mommy will be here, don’t you worry,” and smothering the child with kisses. Rather, just say, “Have a nice day. Here’s the bus.”
School districts in the area also have orientation programs to introduce students to buses.
Sandy Rowe of First Student, the company that provides bus service in Chester, said drivers are trained to be mindful of how children are adjusting to riding the bus.
She said drivers are the first and last person students see during the school day, and often a “good morning” and “how was your day” can go a long way toward making a student comfortable.
Depending on how long a driver stays with the company, he or she can follow students from kindergarten through graduation, Rowe said, noting that she loves seeing adults she remembers as students she once drove to school.
For special education students using Safeway, human resources director Doris Nichols suggests parents ask lots of questions and in some cases, request the driver meet the student ahead of time. The bus company often organizes visits, depending on the circumstances, she said.
Here are more tips on how parents can make the school bus experience a positive one for their child:
r Buy a toy school bus and let the child play with it. Explain in plain terms how it works: The bus is going to take you to school, there will be other children your age on the bus, and so on.
r Don’t over-hype the experience. Some kids do love the school bus, but there’s no need to raise your child’s expectations or to drum up enthusiasm by saying things like, “Oh, it’s going to be so much fun! You’re going to love it!”
r Keep your voice calm.
Staff writer Julie Kirkwood contributed to this article.
Views vary on need for seat belts
By Julie Kirkwood
It’s illegal to drive your children to school in your own car without buckling them into a seat belt.
So why is it that every day, millions of kids load onto buses that don’t even have seat belts, let alone require children to wear them?
“The majority of large school buses in this country are not equipped with this basic appliance,” said Alan Ross, president of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, a volunteer group that lobbies for seat belts on school buses.
“It’s because of money,” he said. “That’s where it’s really pretty sad. ... This is all because of the industry. They’re very profitable so they have a lot of muscle.”
Yet government agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, point to studies that show children do not need to wear seat belts on school buses.
“Statistically, the chances of a student being injured are not when they’re on the bus, it’s when they’re getting on and leaving the bus,” said Phil Fujawa, who works in the Office of Safety and Driver Education for the New Hampshire Department of Education.
Fujawa, who used to work for a school bus manufacturer in Indiana, said the basic design of a school bus makes it inherently safer than a car when it’s driving down the road. Buses are larger and heavier than most vehicles, he said, so they hold up in a collision. Also, they tend to move slowly and, in the event of a crash, the high, padded seats keep children compartmentalized and prevent injuries.
“I want to tell you, I am one of the biggest proponents of seat belt use in other vehicles,” Fujawa said. But when it comes to school buses, he said, “statistically there isn’t a need as far as having that additional protection that a seat belt will provide.”
Few states have laws requiring school buses to have seat belts. (New York and New Jersey are the only two in the Northeast, Ross said).
By Shelley J. Thompson