Legendary Oklahoma weathercaster Gary England was the subject of an article in the Aug. 11, 2013 issue of New York Times magazine. The author of the article, after spending three days in Gary's studio, noted that "One tension of covering severe weather is that you often find yourself rooting for the storm. You don't want it to do serious damage, of course, but you would like it to be interesting, and these desires are often at cross-purposes."
When I read that line, it reminded me of how I feel when I read a serious case of sexual harassment etc. As recently as July 6, I ranted about "repeat performances" on this blog. As I said then, I'm sometimes so glad to have an interesting story to use as a training tool, that it can seem like I'm rooting for the "wrong side" – the tornado, if you will. Today – as in July – I've been reminded once again that my ability to de-personalize the subject of an awful case is an unconscious intellectual tool that allows me to see value in tragedy rather than to face my real despair that, "Here we go again." In "Repeat Performances: A Rant," I wrote "And don't even get me started on bullying and harassment."
Well, something got me started on bullying and harassment, I'm afraid, in the course of writing articles for the September issue of Legal Routes. I quoted from the Aug. 20, 2013 "Dear Colleague Letter issued by the Office for Special Education Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) about bullying involving students with disabilities: "Bullying is no longer dismissed as an ordinary part of growing up, and every effort should be made to structure environments and provide supports to students and staff so that bullying does not occur." Wow – isn't that great? In the same issue, in different articles, I wrote about application of the "Stand Your Ground Law" to a bullying situation on a Florida school bus, as well as the decision by a Florida prosecutor not to press charges against a school bus driver who followed directions in choosing not to intervene directly in a horrible student fight on another bus. Wonderful – a possible legal defense, and an escape from criminal liability – hurrah!
Well, my sarcasm is indicative of my utter disgust. Isn't it grand that "bullying is no longer dismissed as an ordinary part of growing up?" Doesn't that sentence convey recognition that so many of us share that bullying has always been around? Why can't we eradicate it, like polio or small pox? I'm tired of lurid examples which make for colorful training programs. I'm sick to death of suggestions for strategies to prevent it. I just want it to stop. I imagine weather caster Gary England would just like severe weather to stop too.
But it wasn't England's story that served to turn my head around even while writing some of the smart-aleck remarks above. Until I re-read the excellent comments to my "Repeat Performances: A Rant" blog after Pete reminded me about that posting, I saw little we – or I – could do. I could only continue to ignore my never-really-confused values, in a fog of intellectual insulation and talk about legal implications of the examples I used in in-services.
But the three of you who commented on the "Repeat Performances" post have reminded me that we must look to ourselves for solutions. As Garry Puetz said, "We need to develop a culture of continuous learning and improvement in pupil transportation, one where our purpose is embraced by our team members as noble and important. Our purpose? 100% of our students, protected 100% of the time." Garry went on to encourage partnering with administrators, motorists, law enforcement, parents, drivers and students. Darrel Christie stressed the need for "Communication between all parties involved." And Diane Turner urged us to begin with ourselves, "the transportation professionals, managers, dispatchers, instructors and drivers. . .We need to start teaching our professionals that they must, MUST, examine their own attitudes, ideals, and actions." I encourage you all to read these comments in their entirety, and to give them a lot of thought.
Here's what those comments did for me: I began writing this post simply discouraged and frustrated. I'm ending it with a sense that I need to repurpose my training stories. I'm going to start thinking more and more about how communication and attitude change – initiated by our own people – could have prevented some of the tragedies I read about. After all, in the 41 years that Gary England was chief meteorologist at Channel 9 in Oklahoma City (he retired from his position this summer) he never did stop tornadoes, but he saved a lot of lives. As one person said, "He was the voice of safety in my childhood." And here's what I know about you: You can be the start of the solution. So can I. Enough discouragement and grousing!
Peggy Burns is the former in-house counsel for Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Thornton, Colo., and currently owns and operates Education Compliance Group, Inc., a legal consultancy specializing in education and transportation issues. She is also a frequent speaker at national and state conferences and is the editor of the publication Legal Routes that covers pupil transportation law and compliance.