Here's the way to curb violence on Richmond County public school buses: zero tolerance. No warnings, no lectures, no excuses. Any pupil who's violent on school buses gets the boot - and will have to find another way to get to and from school.
The issue of school bus violence has been front and center since two Sego Middle School girls got into a fight Nov. 22, and one of them fell out of the bus and was seriously injured.
However, as far as bus drivers are concerned, it was a major issue long before that. Seven years ago, the school district's transportation chief warned county school Superintendent Charles Larke that if more discipline wasn't imposed on school buses, somebody was going to get seriously injured someday.
Well, now it's happened. And the complaints of bus drivers are very similar today to what they were then. School authorities, principals in particular, simply don't take reports of school bus violence seriously enough. Drivers complain they keep sending out warnings and more warnings - but seldom any follow-through.
Eventually kids get the message - no serious penalties for fighting or rioting on the school bus.
Larke made some moves back in 1997 to curb the violence, and again last week by getting the school board to approve a number of new policies. But what's most needed are more monitors on the buses to help bus drivers maintain order. On many buses, it is too much to expect drivers to drive carefully and monitor effectively.
Currently, there are only 10 professionally trained monitors available, yet there are four times that many school buses on the road. Obviously, more monitors are needed, but the school board says it can't afford to pay them. There's virtually no chance the state will pay for them either.
Although the Georgia General Assembly can't be expected to help monetarily, it could help legally - by clearing away the liability obstacles that prevent the school system from asking parents to volunteer as bus monitors after appropriate training. It's remarkable how lawyers can complicate common-sense solutions to uncomplicated problems.
In the meantime, why not zero tolerance for school bus violence? How much tolerance is there for fighting and rioting in classrooms? Not much, we venture.
There's also zero tolerance for weapons and drugs on campus. Certainly there should be zero tolerance for aggressive school bus activity that could result in serious injuries, or worse. Isn't that the reason for any zero-tolerance program?