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Peabody

School bus monitoring set to begin

Student bullying on buses is not a major problem in Peabody, according to school officials who are determined to keep it that way.

In an effort to maintain a safe environment for all students, members of the School Committee are supporting the launch of a pilot bus monitor program.

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The program will use two monitors to observe students, rotating among the nearly 25 buses that make trips to and from the elementary, middle, and high schools.

Members of the School Committee said there has not been a particular incident that catalyzed the idea for the program, which will kick off in about two weeks, but it is instead an attempt to keep an eye on any potential problems.

“Peabody’s like all other communities where there have been incidents of disruptive behavior on buses and reports of bullying,” said David McGeney, a School Committee member. “This measure isn’t so much a direct response to a chronic problem, but an attempt to be proactive and to make sure the bus offers a safe environment for our students.”

The city will hire two part-time employees to work for the remainder of the school year, at a cost of about $9,000.

In May 2010, the state passed a law that required all schools to develop a bullying prevention and intervention law by the end of that year.

The legislation was passed after two Massachusetts youths who faced harassment from other students committed suicide; one of them was Phoebe Prince, a South Hadley teenager who hanged herself in January 2010 after being harassed at school.

Peabody School Committee member Brandi Carpenter, who has three children in the system, said it is not just about bullying, but an overall safety concern.

“When you envision a bus driver on a bus, they’re facing the complete opposite direction,” Carpenter said. “There could be teasing, there could be taunting, and there could be other issues at hand they can’t take responsibility for because their eyes are on the road.”

Carpenter said she originally pushed to have one monitor on every bus, but that would cost $600,000, an amount that is not in the school budget.

“Most people would say having an extra adult on a bus that holds upwards to 30 children, whether it’s for bullying or not, just for safety, is a wiser decision than not having one,” she said.

Mayor Edward Bettencourt said that the program is launching on a very limited trial, and that he has not received one call regarding a bullying incident on school buses.

“This isn’t in response to an increase report of any bullying incidents in the city,” Bettencourt said. “This is something that we’re looking at to provide better services for our kids and make it safer for them on the school buses.

“Putting bus monitors on all buses in the city will be extremely costly so I don’t know if this is something we’ll be able to put in the budget.”

Officials will revisit the issue once next year’s budget is set . Bettencourt said that right now, the budget is “very tight.”

Superintendent Joe Mastrocola said he supported the idea from day one despite the lack of reported incidents. He said if there is an issue, it is usually on school grounds or in the school itself and supervisors address the problems when necessary.

“The bus is really an extension of the school rules,” Mastrocola said. “The principals really spend a lot of time with that.”

Mastrocola said the schools will try out the new program, collect some feedback, and “get a feel for things.”

“I’m very optimistic with the fact that hopefully kids are trying to be kind to each other,” Mastrocola said. “It usually becomes a problem over time, and I don’t see that happening.”

Terri Ogan can be reached at oganglobe@gmail.com.
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