WATCH ABOVE: Video of behaviour on an Edmonton school bus has some drivers and parents asking if more needs to be done to keep everyone on the bus safe. Fletcher Kent has the story.
EDMONTON — It’s a situation that has generated heated debate: an Edmonton bus driver removed a student from the school bus after the boy repeatedly hit a younger student and allegedly threatened physical violence.
Cunningham Transport Ltd. stood behind its driver, and said it would put new policies in place to help drivers who radio in asking for help dealing with difficult situations and would look at additional training.
The Catholic School Board however, took the driver off its bus routes, and recommended he be fired. It later apologized for asking that he be fired.
So, what are the policies in place to protect students and drivers? What rules exist to guide the handling of difficult situations with students on school buses?
“This driver was faced with an incredibly difficult situation,” said Brenda Johnson, the president of the Student Transportation Association of Alberta.
“Can you imagine trying to negotiate traffic when there’s that kind of distraction going on on the bus, not just a distraction, but a violent incident. What goes through my mind is this is an opportunity for us, not only as school divisions but also as a community, to rally around and support our drivers that do this important work for students every single day.”
Alberta’s School Act
Many school bus drivers who have spoken to Global News say they need more authority to act when students act inappropriately on the bus.
“It’s certainly not an option under the current legislation,” said Johnson. “The School Act is very clear that the responsibility for disciplining students rests solely with the principal of the school.”
Under the current legislation, drivers must defer to the school for disciplinary decisions.
“The school bus is an extension of the classroom and the school,” explained Johnson. “The bus driver can’t be left out there by himself. Drivers need the support of school administration and staff, they need the support of school boards, they need the support of parents and families.”
“The expectation for student behaviour needs to be clearly outlined to the students and the parents and also what the consequences for breaching those set of standards would be,” she stressed.
Johnson said giving bus drivers or bus companies more power would present some challenges. It would also require the current legislation be changed.
“If we have 50 drivers driving for a school division, we do have 50 different ways of handling a situation. There has to be some definite criteria and there needs to be some consistency with how that punishment – or whatever retribution is handed out – is handled.”
“Of course, it’s an opportunity to review things and make sure that what we’re doing is still serving the needs of students in this province,” added Johnson. “But again, the School Act is clear as to where that responsibility lies.”
Drivers on Edmonton Catholic School District bus routes can report behavioural incidents by filling out an infraction form.
“There’s a warning system,” explained Laura Doroshenko with Cunningham Transport. “Edmonton Catholic does an excellent job with enforcing it. But it’s up to the driver’s discretion too. They may give a child a warning.
“They can fill these infraction forms out. They give a copy to the child, to the school, and there’s a copy kept here at the office, but it’s all up to driver’s discretion.”
According to Johnson, the School Act states all decisions about how a student will be disciplined must be made by the school.
The Edmonton Catholic Board has installed cameras on 93 of its 200 buses. The public board does not use cameras.
Johnson said school bus drivers receive training regarding student management.
“These incidents happen. Unfortunately, student management is one of the aspects of the job that is the wildcard.”
She said, in this case, the bus driver had to react to a critical situation.
“His priority has to be the safety of all the students on the bus, not just the ones that were involved in the incident. So the driver’s focus is definitely to remove that distraction, contain the situation and protect the safety of the other students as well.”