Proposal Allows Bus Drivers to Use "Reasonable" Force
by Aundrea Cline-Thomas
SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn.- After aSumner County bus driver was arrested for assaulting a student, only to be cleared of all the charges, Portland Representative Mike McDonald decided to draft legislation giving school bus drivers more rights, especially when the intention is to keep students safe.
Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee considered a similar proposal.
"When you lose control of your bus you've lost everything," bus driver Susan Howard said.
Fights are already dangerous, but when it happens on a school bus it puts everyone including the driver at risk.
"I had one stop and this big girl and this big guy got into it and I thought they were really going to kill one another," Howard recalled about an incident. "I had to pull over, flag a police officer down then go back there."
Other than calling dispatch to alert security, there's not much more Susan Howard can do.
"I didn't put my hands on them."
That's because she's trained not to, even to break up the fight and make sure other students are not harmed.
"I'm not afraid to go back there and do that. I'm not," she explained, "…but you (would) probably have a lawsuit."
"Ten or fifteen years ago this wouldn't have been something we wouldn't have thought we needed to pass a law for," State Senator Kerry Roberts said. "But just in today's litigious environment this is just something we need to do."
Sen. Roberts drafted companion legislation that originated in the House. It allows school bus drivers to use reasonable force to maintain order, only when students present a danger to themselves or others.
"This isn't a type of thing where we've got some people bickering and someone's going to get heavy handed with them," Sen. Roberts said. "This is where there's a real danger."
The proposal is meant to protect bus drivers against what Roberts calls frivolous lawsuits. Still, for Howard there's a lot of hesitation.
"I think we need the right to go back and do what we need to do," Howard said. "Now if I'd take the whatever, I don't know."
Under the proposal students would also be suspended for both physically and verbally assaulting bus drivers. If an incident occurs the drivers would then be required to report it to the principal, no later than the next school day.
While some members of the Senate Education Committee raised questions about the proposal, Sen. Roberts does not believe anyone is against it. It will be back on the Education Committee's agenda next week.