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The Yellow Madhouse–A School Bus Driver’s Plight

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.

Jackie Miller’s story is very familiar to school bus drivers everywhere
Jackie Miller’s story is very familiar to school-bus drivers everywhere

Two years ago, the Covid pandemic shone a spotlight on the national shortage of school bus drivers and how it was fueled not only by fear of the virus but low pay, high liability, great responsibility, costly certification requirements, and incidents like this:

A video of a driver in Ohio recently went viral after she snapped and angrily cursed out the kids on her bus. Jackie Miller resigned but refused to take back what she’d said. (Among other things, she threatened to “start kicking some f–kin’ serious ass.”)

Miller had endured years of constant misbehavior, disrespect and the prank spraying of perfume, to which she is allergic. She’d had at least one dangerous reaction to a substance and her precious cargo finally went too far. “This is a plight of all bus drivers,” she told reporters. “We are treated with such lack of respect.”

As the jockey of a big, yellow madhouse (I drive middle schoolers and write about it in my blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure”), I can definitely sympathize. So, apparently, can the people across the country who have donated almost $60,000 to help Miller cope with sudden unemployment.

Disrespect, dangerous behavior and perfume/body spray clouds are standard fare on my bus. I’ve been blessed with some concerned parents and school administrators who try to help, but there is still a widespread lack of understanding of what we deal with while driving what is essentially a 40-foot building stuffed with rampaging urchins.

Their scampering in the aisle, tumbling over seats, throwing things, shrieking, roughhousing and fighting are dangerous distractions when we’re trying to navigate streets where vehicles, pedestrians and animals come out of nowhere in a heartbeat. Defiance and insults make the veins on our foreheads bulge.

As I watched Miller berate her passengers with forceful language that would make a dockworker blush, I thought of the times I’ve lost it and dropped a D bomb or slightly worse on kids who wouldn't stay seated while the bus was in motion or stop sticking their arms out the windows.

During my five years behind the wheel, I’ve gotten better at keeping my cool. When things get too hot, I pull over in a safe spot and sit quietly, refusing to move until the kids settle down. “I get paid by the hour,” I inform them. “You are now funding my yacht and luxurious retirement.” But there are still times that try men’s and women’s souls.

One day, after repeated warnings and a pullover, I had to stop again after a kid in the back released a cloud of body spray that made everyone near him scurry to open the windows. As I called in to my dispatcher to report the situation, a girl came up the aisle and said, “I need to get home and I’m tired of your pulling-over s—t.”

“You’re sick of it?” I replied, incredulous. “You’re sick of it?!”

I made sure to file a report and was happy to learn that she and the perfume bomber were suspended for a week. When they returned, they were clearly chastened, but not for long. They’re still a daily challenge. So are the kids who complained “Hey, bus driver! I gotta get home!” after I pulled over for the third time one day.

“If you want to get home on time, stop acting like jackasses,” I replied. I felt guilty for that choice of descriptive noun, but then again, they spew far worse words during every trip.

One of the most galling episodes was when I explained to my riders for the thousandth time that I am responsible for their safety only to have a wisenheimer in the back yell “OK, Dad!” and set off gales of laughter.

“Come up here and say that to my face!” I fumed at them.

We must always find a way to rise above the nonsense and be the bigger, calmer person, no matter how provocative that nonsense may be. But kids these days have no fear of adults and no sense of consequences. I blame the typical rebellion and peer pressure that is made worse by social media in a time of widespread behavioral conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, a spectrum of autism, and dangerous mental illness. In this mix, we drivers must worry about kids with guns.

I can only imagine how drivers in Missouri feel. Despite more than 375 school shooting incidents nationwide since 1999, state legislators in the Show Me State have decided against banning minors from carrying firearms on public property without adult supervision. Tell a kid to sit down when they may be packing heat? No thanks. I’d much rather have perfume sprayed on my bus instead of bullets any day.

Here in New York, gun laws are stricter but my district in the Hudson Valley is going to provide active shooter training for drivers and hold drills that require us to help evacuate schools. So, does anyone really wonder any more why there’s a driver shortage?


John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.



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