Bus Monitor Incident Highlights School Bus Bullying Issue

The video of a bullying incident involving Upstate New York bus monitor Karen Klein became an overnight internet sensation that led to a fundraising campaign that collected more than $700,000 for her to take a vacation. But it also highlighted that aggressive behavior towards adults charged with policing student conduct on school buses isn’t as rare as people would like to believe. Some bus monitors interviewed by The Wall Street Journal recount incidents that were even more horrific than the verbal abuse hurled at Klein — including incidents of physical violence, sexual harassment, and extortion.

These incidents raise the question of how effective the bus monitor system is in ensuring that students taking the school bus arrive where they’re going safely.

Bus monitors can be crucial in keeping students in line and can be the first to spot trouble at home. And at least one student says that without the aides, bus rides would be chaos. But the job can be grueling: The pay is low, the hours odd and fractured and their power to actually solve disciplinary problems limited, bus monitors and union officials said.

Betty Martin has been riding on school buses for more than two decades, and she said that in these years her ability to exercise authority over her charges has been steadily eroding. When she began, all that it took to bring a misbehaving children into line was threatening to report them to school authorities or notify their families. Now kids, especially the worst-behaved ones, tend to brush off these kinds of warnings.

“Now if you say that to a child it’s like, ‘So what? Tell them,'” said Martin, a bus aide in Buffalo who recounted cases where colleagues had earrings ripped from their ears and were subjected to other physical attacks. “You can’t touch them, you can’t do anything to them, and a lot of times, they have parents who feel the exact same way.”

In Klein’s case, except for a student poking her with a textbook, the incident didn’t escalate beyond verbal taunts. Cheryl Armstrong, who is the transportation director for Greece Central Schools, which employed Klein until she retired this summer, said that it was distressing to see the bus monitor allow children to so thoroughly strip her of authority.

Students who don’t respond to a monitor’s verbal commands are supposed to be written up for follow-up discipline by the school, transportation supervisors said. The bus driver can radio for help and even call 911 in extreme cases. After the video became public, the district suspended four seventh-grade boys from school for a year.

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