MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — Following an ongoing hostage crisis situation in south Alabama safety is a pointed concern for many parents. Tuesday afternoon a 6-year-old boy was seized from a school bus at gunpoint. The bus driver, 66-year-old Charles Poland Jr., was shot and killed, but school officials from Dale County said Wednesday he saved 21 other children on board.
The fact this incident could have happened anywhere begs the question: Are school bus drivers trained and equipped to deal with similar situations? What would your child’s driver do if faced with the same circumstances?
WHNT News 19 took these questions to Bobby Jackson, Madison City Schools’ Transportation Director.
“In our state our drivers have to go through a four-hour re-certification class every year,” explains Jackson. “They bring up topics of telling the drivers to be aware of their surroundings, their stops and if anything doesn’t look right then you take appropriate action.”
Federal law states anyone who tries to enter a school bus without prior permission from the driver or other school officials and refuses to leave is subject to prosecution and up to a $2,000 fine. Bobby Jackson says Alabama currently has pre-filed legislation to adopt these laws statewide but in the meantime he says drivers have very clear instructions on what to do if someone enters the school bus unlawfully.
“If you see someone coming toward the bus that may look mad, if there are no students boarding that bus — close the door and get out of there”, Jackson said bluntly. “I’d rather deal with an irate parent who got mad because the driver shut the door in their face that to take a chance of something like this happening on one of our buses.”
Jackson also explains that in a similar situation, bus drivers have a code word they can broadcast over the radio to immediately let colleagues know something is wrong. Jackson says as soon as that special word is uttered Madison Police can be dispatched within a matter of seconds.
“We take this very seriously and our drivers do too,” Jackson said.