I’m so ready for things to get back to normal again and I’m sure you are, too. As a parent of two young students, 3 and 7 years old, my wife and I are starting to go through the usual checklist of back-to-school items our kids will need, such as new clothes, shoes, pencils, pens, erasers, notebooks, and backpacks, to name a few must-haves. The importance of our kids’ health and wellness will also be top of mind this school year. Ready the hand sanitizer and masks!
One big concern that is being reported is the new COVID-19 Delta variant. The medical community is reporting pockets of outbreaks around the country, which is raising red flags. I do see health and safety standards at schools and on school buses remaining in place into the new school year. I do anticipate health and wellness being a major focus item for school transportation, especially if things escalate around the country again.
Related: Los Angeles Unified School District Announces 6,500 COVID-19 Cases at Startup
Related: Survey Indicates Fewer Students Will Take School Bus Amid COVID-19
Related: (STN Podcast E77) Discussions Continue: Mask Mandates, COVID Precautions & A Return to School
Also, the endless struggle to find people who are willing and qualified to drive school buses is a major challenge districts and school bus contractors are facing nationwide. While the driver shortage is nothing new to the industry, the severity of it is being felt like never before, especially with federal unemployment benefits in place in many states through Sept. 6. I’m not sure I see things improving until sometime in October, as it takes time to get drivers and staff trained.
So, what’s on your school transportation checklist to get ready for the new school year? Here is how several industry professionals recently answered that question.
“I’m looking at all our expenses specifically as it relates to cleaning and disinfecting for our school buses,” said Jennifer Vobis, the executive director of transportation at Clark County Unified School District serving the Las Vegas area. “I am quite interested in air quality solutions. The science I have seen shows that airborne viruses inside a closed environment is an issue that needs to be addressed for the health and wellness of our drivers and the students we transport.”
Related: (STN Podcast E76) Uncertainties Persist: School Bus Ops Cope With New COVID-19 Delta Variant and Mechanic Shortages
Related: COVID-19 Could Impact Transportation Long After the Virus Leaves Students
Related: California Mandates COVID-19 Vaccines for All School Staff
“I recommend school bus driver and student safety training be a top priority for every school district and school bus contractor as the new 2021-2022 school year approaches,” advised Jeff Cassell, president of the School Bus Safety Company and former head of risk management at Laidlaw. “Kids are out of practice and so are the school bus drivers over the summer. It’s important to re-engage all the stakeholders including the parents to teach their kids about the importance of safety around the school bus. The goal is zero student fatalities, and it takes a village to keep re-enforcing that message.”
“Driver recruitment is my top priority,” commented John Benish, Jr., COO at Cook Illinois Corporation located in Chicago and the immediate past-president of the National School Transportation Association. “I’d like to see clear and updated guidelines this year on school bus cleaning and disinfect¬ing protocols, plus masks, too. It’s vitally important that parents under¬stand the driver shortages we face as an industry. We need the parent’s cooperation regarding the changes and delays we might face heading into the new school year.”
Related: Half of U.S. School Districts Rate Bus Driver Shortage as ‘Desperate’
Related: 2,100 Chicago Public Schools Students Without Rides Amid Bus Driver Shortage
Related: Washington State Vaccine Mandate Exacerbates School Bus Driver Shortage
“We received an EPA grant to buy seven new electric school buses plus we are upgrading all our charging infrastructure to DC fast charging,” shared Richard Gallagher, director of transportation and purchasing agent at Bayshore Central School District in New York. “Additionally, my plan is to continue with cleaning and disinfecting protocols on our school buses especially in high touch areas. Plus, we will keep the windows open for ventilation and continue to enforce the mask policy but provide masks to students if needed”.
As school buses start to roll again to support students for in-person learning, we must all remain vigilant of the challenges we faced before the pandemic, during it and after it, too. All these lessons will help us move forward as an industry to keep our staff and students safe.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the August 2021 issue of School Transportation News.