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Bullied bus monitor: Case of Karen Klein spotlights problem on school buses

Bus drivers and monitors across the country are being better trained on how to deal with bullying, and after the case of bullied bus monitor Karen Klein, school officials may pay them more heed.

By Staff writer / June 22, 2012

Karen Klein, 68, of Greece, N.Y., talks about the verbal abuse she endured from Greece middle school students while she was school bus monitor. Since the incident was captured in a 10-minute video posted to YouTube.

Jamie Germano/AP

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The shocking YouTube video of students verbally abusing monitor Karen Klein highlights how difficult it can be to handle bullying in a place where it often happens: the school bus.

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The good news is that better training is making its way to thousands of bus drivers and monitors across the country – and school administrators may now be more inclined than ever to take seriously drivers’ reports of taunting, sexual harassment, and other forms of bullying against kids and adults.

First Student, a company that transports 6 million students a day, launched a campaign this past school year – “See Something. Do Something.” – to train all its drivers and attendants, more than 59,000 people.

The workshops teach bus drivers how to recognize signs of bullying and strategies for responding – once they’ve stopped the bus in a safe location. They present hypothetical scenarios to help them practice deescalating aggressive behavior.

The training materials are available more broadly and were developed jointly by the US Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools and the National Association for Public Transportation (NAPT).

“The NAPT [is] prepared … to engage at a higher level than ever before in the dialogue about what school districts and communities are doing about bullying prevention, particularly on school buses,” said executive director Michael Martin, in a written statement in the wake of the Karen Klein incident.

Thirty-two percent of students ages 12 to 18 who said they were bullied in a 2006-07 survey, and of those, 8 percent said they were bullied on a bus, according to the training materials. Other studies suggest it’s even more widespread.

One study based on interviews with 30 bus drivers from four school districts found that 90 percent of them noticed verbal bullying on their buses, and 70 percent noticed physical intimidation. Thirty percent said bullying occurred often on their buses and they stopped frequently to intervene, according to the 2008 research by Ellen deLara, an associate professor at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work.

“Kids talk about this venue as the worst part of their day,” Ms. deLara says. “Most [buses] don’t even have a monitor in the first place, which leaves the driver trying to transport the students safely and attend to any bullying that’s happening behind him or her…. Anything that brings further education to the bus drivers would be useful…. They really want to have a safe bus and a dignified environment.”

One reason drivers suggested that students are bullied on the bus is that their peers can see where they live – and often it’s those who live in very poor conditions, and may be sent to school in dirty clothes, for instance, who receive the most abuse.

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