Bad behavior on APS school buses worse since pandemic - Albuquerque Journal

Bad behavior on APS school buses worse since pandemic

School buses carrying students make their way out of Cibola High School in March. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant effect on student behavior.

But when you cram up to 68 kids on a 40-foot moving vehicle, those issues can become a whole different beast.

Student behavior on school buses has become more problematic over the past school year or two, Albuquerque Public Schools bus drivers said at a school board meeting last week. Some also expressed concerns over school responses to behavioral problems.

“A student with a pocket knife was getting a pass by a principal because ‘We don’t want him missing school,’ ” APS bus driver Lisa Rogers told board members last week. “Students throwing things out of the windows, hitting other drivers on the road, becomes a hazard. This bad behavior cannot be acceptable.”

The Albuquerque Federation of Classified Professionals President Kathy Chavez said bus drivers – some of whom have taken on as many as three routes per day because of a shortage of drivers – have also shouldered many of the students’ behavioral issues arising from over a year of being shuttered indoors due to the pandemic.

“They’re overworked because of the shortage, they’re feeling abused by these students, they’re certainly underpaid – that’s for sure – and not supported,” she told the Journal. “Quite frankly, that’s what makes them feel disrespected or unrespected.”

Around the beginning of the year, district officials estimated the bus driver shortage at around 40 positions that needed to be filled, but Chavez suggested that that number’s grown. Starting bus drivers currently make $20 per hour.

There are many reasons why a student might misbehave on the bus, Superintendent Scott Elder told the Journal – including just being bored, hungry or not seeing the bus as an extension of the school.

Schools also had to deal with a plethora of behavioral issues as students reemerged from remote learning, he said, adding that it may now be time for APS to turn its attention to buses.

That said, he pointed out that school administrators – who are typically the ones tasked with handling behavioral problems – have to balance several pressing issues.

That includes the “incredible pressure on them to have students attend school,” Elder said. For some families, the bus is the only means of transportation to school, meaning that, if their student is kicked off, they might not make it to class.

“Ultimately, (they’ve) got to get to school,” Elder said. “I don’t know if that means for a period of time they’re not going to ride the bus – maybe that’s just going to have to happen – but we can’t do it forever. So, we’ve still got to solve the problem.”

Chavez noted that bus drivers weren’t raising the issue to get kids kicked off the bus, but to have the problems resolved.

“All we’re asking is that the principals at the school … take it on,” she said. “Nobody’s refusing to drive those kids.”

Elder said remedying the situation will take working with both sides – figuring out what’s causing students to misbehave and addressing the root problem, as well as providing more support and training in such things as de-escalation techniques for bus drivers.

Chavez also suggested more training in de-escalation, and added that the district should look into providing attendants for new drivers, as well as pickups with a historically high incidence of behavioral issues.

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