In a recent comment left on the Johnson City Press’ Facebook page, a Liberty Bell Middle School student questions the policy that forbids boys and girls from sitting together as they ride to and from school, and claims it only serves to increase confusion in the already muddled world of adolescent cross-gender relationships.
Janutolo, however, said the policy has been in place for at least two years and has been proven to enforce order among the 7,000 morning and afternoon bus riders each day.
“We try to keep the kids separated from front to back and from side to side,” she said Wednesday. “It improves behavior and reduces the opportunities for misbehavior.”
She said the policy is mostly enforced among middle and high school students, and serves to make loading the buses easier because students waiting for pick up at their respective schools are already sorted by gender.
“Kids waiting for the bus to arrive, in cafeterias and gyms, the schools already separate them by boys and girls, it’s just easier that way,” Janutolo said. “On some of the buses the girls load first and sit two to a seat, then the boys will load first the next week.”
Gender separation is one of the many techniques used by the system to keep commutes quiet and safe, she said. Students are also trained to safely load and unload and to remain in their seats once the bus is under way.
“We don’t ask the parents what they think is a great idea,” she said, responding to a question about feedback collected on the policy. “We try to maintain as safe and efficient a ride as possible, and whatever we need to do to do that, that’s what we do.”
According to Johnson City Board of Education policy, students are required to obey both Johnson City Transit Authority and school district rules and behavior standards.
Bus drivers are tasked with enforcing the regulations and maintaining general order on their buses.
Disobeying the rules can result in being barred from riding the bus.
Janutolo said the district rarely encounters behavior problems on the buses and most of the students stay in their seats.
“There are occasionally issues, but 99.9999 percent behave in an excellent manner,” she said. “What we’re doing works.”
On Washington County school buses, children aren’t directed to sit according to their genders, and drivers don’t see many behavioral problems, Secondary Director Bill Williams said.
“We don’t have much of an issue with bus behavior,” Williams said. “We have cameras on all of our buses, and if we have a problem, we can view the video if it’s brought to our attention.”
Johnson City Schools’ transportation policy also provides for cameras to be installed on buses to monitor student behavior and “promote order, safety and security of students, staff and property.”