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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

Keeping Your Child with Special Needs Safe From Bullies on the Bus

“If you found out your child with special needs was being bullied on the school bus, what would you do?”

  • Many parents respond angrily to this question with thoughts of violence or revenge.  But that creates new problems without solving the original problem.
  • Some suggest riding the bus with the child to figure out how the bullying occurred.  But there are legal reasons why it is usually not permitted for parents to ride the bus with their children.
  • Others recommend declining bus services for the bullied child and driving the child to school – but in that case, the bully is still on the bus threatening other children.

The Perfect Environment

Unfortunately, the school bus is the perfect environment for bullying.  The driver must remain focused on traffic for everyone’s safety.  The bus engine is loud, which means that people in one part of the bus can’t hear what is being said in another part of the bus.  The children are packed in close together, and the bus ride may be long.  When parents ask a driver about an incident, the driver often has no knowledge of it.

So what can be done when a child with special needs is being bullied on the bus?

1. Start a paper trail 

It’s a good idea to start by talking to the school bus driver and the parents of the bully.  But what if that doesn’t work?  It may not be enough to speak to the bus driver and phone the school’s director of transportation.

Get the name of the bully and make sure that an incident report is filed.  When my son was bullied on the bus, the driver reported it before I did.  The school district’s policy stated that the privilege of busing would be denied to any student with 3 incident reports.  Because the bully had been involved in incidents with other children, he was no longer permitted to ride the bus after that day.  Check with your school district regarding its policies on bullying and bus discipline.

2. Go up the chain of command

Last year a good friend who lives in a different school district also learned that her child with special needs was being bullied on the bus.  Several children had witnessed a girl telling her son that she was going to bring her brother’s BB gun to school and shoot him.

My friend had already reported several other incidents with the same girl to the teachers and school administrators – sometimes via e-mail, but usually in face-to-face conversation.  When she approached the school principal with her concerns about her son’s safety, the principal had no recollection of the previous conversations.  No incident report had ever been filed, and the principal suggested that she simply drive her son to school to avoid the girl.

I’ve found that the most effective way to communicate with school administrators is to send a letter or e-mail simultaneously to different people who can help with the situation: the IEP case manager, the lead teacher, the social worker and the principal.  When everyone gets the same information at the same time, they can respond as a team.  I did this when my son was bullied on the school playground, and the response was swift and effective.

But bullying on the bus is outside the responsibility of classroom teachers, so the next step is to write to the director of transportation, the director of special education and the district superintendent.

3. Get a bus buddy

Ask your child’s teacher to identify friends who can sit with your child on the bus.  My son had several volunteers who enjoyed saving a seat for him in the morning, escorting him to the bus in the afternoon and sitting with him for the ride.

4. Request a parapro or camera on the bus

If parent volunteers are not allowed to ride the bus as monitors, then it makes sense to provide a parapro or camera on the bus to watch the situation.

5. Educate the Students

Ask the school administration and PTA  to offer anti-bullying programs, positive behavior support, peer-to-peer support and inclusion-based activities for all students.  For example, Operation Nice and Scheer Genius school assembly shows offer an entertaining anti-bullying curriculum for elementary school students that can be applied throughout the school year.

6. Round up the volunteers

You can work with the school’s PTA to get parent volunteers at every bus stop on your route to check on the safety of the students.

7. If necessary, go to the hospital

If a child is showing signs of physical or sexual assault, seek medical care immediately, have the medical staff photograph the injuries and file a police report.   Photographs taken at home may be rejected by the school district’s disciplinary team.  If you know the name of the attacker, consider requesting an order of protection for your child at the time you file the police report.

Many parents decline medical care or documentation for their children to avoid further trauma, but without this evidence the school’s disciplinary team may be unable or unwilling to take action.  Physical evidence and a signed letter from a physician are essential when the victim is nonverbal or has memory impairments.

Many students with special needs are affected by bullying at some point during their education.  Having a plan of action before the bullying starts can reduce a parent’s counterproductive reactions and solve the problem quickly and efficiently.

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Karen Wang

Written on August 21, 2012 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"

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