For a while, the alleged sexual assault involving a 5-year-old on a W.G. Pearson Elementary school bus seemed a Catch-22 for the child’s Latino mother. She doesn’t speak English and thus can’t understand the nuances of how violations of social order are resolved here.
Neither does the youngster set upon by three older students accused of forcing him to perform oral sex. Worse, a report of a second incident on a W.G. Pearson bus soon surfaced.
The 5-year-old’s mother said through an interpreter that Pearson’s principal told her the incident was a police matter. The police told her and other concerned parents, again through an interpreter, that they had no say in who rides a Durham school bus, but were vigorously investigating the matter.
Well, somebody has to take responsibility. As captain of the ship, the driver would seem the logical choice, but DPS has absolved the driver, saying road safety is paramount.
That’s one reason, perhaps the most important reason, the Pearson school bus had a video camera for on-board security. How much the camera observed is problematic – often such cameras are low-cost, low-resolution devices mounted in the front of the bus.
Nonetheless, these cameras can provide valuable evidence in school and school bus incidents. They are more common in U.S. schools than you might think: about 32 per 1,000 students in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In the wake of the two Pearson bus incidents, DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme wisely ordered video cameras installed on all school buses without one. By early 2015, all the district’s 262 buses will be equipped.
Anyone who rode a school bus knows about mischief. That won’t change, cameras or not, but at the least these all-seeing eyes should reduce inappropriate conduct.
As a 10th-grader in the military school system in Germany, I rode a bus 84 miles a day round trip, from Ulm to Augsburg. No video cameras then. Didn’t need one. The German driver must have driven a Tiger tank on the Eastern Front, because he was a no-nonsense type who kept a lid on us – no exceptions.
But so did something else: the threat of a delinquency report – the dread DR – that could put your father before his commanding officer for some ‘splainin’. Trust me, you didn’t want to go there.
Of course, that was before the United States became a therapeutic culture in which everyone is a victim. So, it almost goes without saying that the therapeutic culture has an answer to rowdiness on school buses.
It’s the Peaceful School Bus Program. And as infer from the name, it’s a feel-good plan that encourages students to build trusting relationships with their diverse school bus comrades.
The goal is to help students take responsibility for the “social climate” on the bus.
That’s an admirable ideal, but easier said than done. The Peaceful School Bus Program is a multi-step effort that demands another layer of work for students, teachers, administrators and, of course, parents. It takes a real measure of commitment.
For example, under the aegis of a teacher-team leader students on each bus route meet periodically at school to build cohesion and group identity. That is, get to know and like each other. Administrators, teachers and bus drivers may also participate.
Search for Peaceful School Bus Program on Google and read all about it. What you are unlikely to read about, however, is consequences for bad behavior.
This is the determinism of modern social science, which at its worse seeks to avoid or mitigate penalties for most categories of aberrant behavior. Don’t pile on the offender, because he isn’t the author of his behavior – he’s a victim of externalities.
To be fair, the issue of consequences must lie where it always has, with the schools and parents. For sure, how DPS adjudicates the forced-sex incidents will define it in the minds of immigrant parents from now on.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.