Are terrorists driving school buses? Not as far as anyone knows. And yet, school safety analysts, transportation groups, and federal law-enforcement agencies took pains last week to say there’s no cause for concern in the wake of an FBI alert.
The flurry of attention began with an Associated Press story citing a bulletin by federal authorities that some individuals with suspected ties to extremist groups either are working as school bus drivers or have sought to do so.
Newspapers from Newark, N.J. to Seattle picked up the story. In the nation’s capital, The Washington Times ran a front-page story.
By last week, the news had made the talk shows, with Glenn Beck of CNN telling viewers of a “stunning FBI bulletin you won’t believe.”
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the alert merely pointed out that some individuals with possible ties to extremist groups, whom federal investigators are paying attention to, also drove school buses, have sought licenses to drive them, or purchased them.
The bulletin was one in a series issued by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to local law-enforcement agencies. It said that investigators had no reason to think extremists were planning an attack using school buses, and that parents shouldn’t worry.
“The FBI does investigations of things on a routine basis, and one of those things concerns where people work,” Mr. Kolko said. “There is no plot or threat.”
Michael Dorn, a school safety expert in Atlanta who wrote a book on school terrorism, said such stories can distract policymakers from far more likely threats to students’ safety, such as student-on-student violence and health-related heart stoppages.
“We’ve got kids dying in schools from things that are not such far-fetched scenarios,” he said, adding that he knows of one school board that considered putting helicopter-landing pads near its schools in case of a terrorist attack.
Michael J. Martin, the executive director of the Albany, N.Y.-based National Association for Pupil Transportation, argued that federal homeland-security money should be used to better secure school buses. Three years ago, his group asked the agency for $2 billion for satellite-track systems, video cameras, and other items for the nation’s 470,000-vehicle school bus fleet.
The request hasn’t been granted.
A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2007 edition of Education Week