Bullying is commonly associated with hallway fistfights or stairwell confrontations, but for some students, the risk isn’t confined to the school building. These youngsters face the possibility of physical and verbal aggression as soon as they step on the bus.

The issue hit home last week in Farmington, where, police say, an 8-year-old boy threatened a 6-year-old boy with a jackknife on the bus. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The older child has been charged with terrorizing and suspended for 10 days; school administrators are reviewing the bus driver’s response.

But as top school officials weigh whether to discipline the driver, they also should consider whether bus operators have the training they need to address challenging situations. Considering that eight out of 10 Maine children rely on a bus to get to school, the commitment to ending bullying shouldn’t stop at the school doors.

School buses are an ideal environment for bullies, researchers have found. Why? The victim can’t get away; a bully can sit next to their prey. As other children stay silent, fearing they’ll be the next to be targeted and trapped, the bully’s actions are encouraged by default.

Bullies also count on the fact that there’s minimal adult supervision aboard a school bus. The driver is responsible for getting all of them to and from school safely and on time, making it impractical to pull over and walk the aisle every time misbehavior seems to be flaring up.

And since drivers sit with their backs to dozens of youngsters, it can be difficult to identify those responsible for bullying — though video cameras are making it easier. (The bus where the knife incident took place was a spare, with no cameras.)


School bus drivers take bullying seriously. In fact, a 2010 National Education Association survey found that 92 percent of drivers believe it’s “their job” to step in when a student is being assaulted, taunted or threatened. And the same study found that drivers were more likely than other school support staff — such as custodians and cafeteria workers — to witness bullying.

But only 56 percent of bus drivers say they’ve been trained in how to step in on a child’s behalf when they see that youngster being bullied.

In Farmington, the driver told the child with the knife to put it away, then called ahead to the school. Meanwhile, the superintendent has said that routine driver training could not have anticipated the situation.

Thankfully, reports of incidents like the one last week are rare. But it wouldn’t be hard for a troubled child to get access to a pocketknife — a 2008 consumer survey estimates that about 35 million U.S. households have one — or many other kinds of dangerous items.

The men and women behind the wheel of our school buses want to help prevent bullying and learn how best to intervene when they see it.

School districts throughout Maine should see the incident in Farmington as a warning and make sure they’ve done all they can to bring bus drivers on board anti-bullying efforts.

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