To say it’s been a difficult couple of weeks is the understatement of the past two decades, at least. The shear speed in which the global pandemic of COVID-19 has spread is mindboggling. In light of these current events, we were forced to make the difficult decision of postponing the 29th annual Transporting Students with Disabilities Conference last month. In an effort to move forward, our team is working hard to plan the TSD Conference in conjunction with STN EXPO Indianapolis, scheduled for June 4-9. Combining both conferences is unprecedented and could result in the largest conference we have ever hosted. A positive ray of hope amid the darkness.
These are truly uncharted times, and we’re learning right alongside are readers and attendees, as we navigate this coronavirus outbreak as a family.
Time and time again, the school bus industry has a way of rising up to meet the ever-evolving challenges presented to local communities. This latest effort of support and leadership provided by student transporters shines a light on how to continue cultivating trust with the families we serve.
The outpouring of support from all over the country, namely, to provide ongoing services to our students, is the uplifting angle of this crisis story. School buses, now mostly empty of students, are serving an entirely new mission.
In a few short days last month, our society saw school transportation operations turn on a dime, transforming their school buses into mobile food delivery trucks. These meals-on-wheels services are helping children who might not have the access to food in this dire time of need. Imagine not having food to eat and seeing your school bus pull up daily to drop off much need resources. It’s a powerful picture, and it reminds politicians, the news media, and Moms and Dads of the vital role that school buses and student transporters play in bad times as well as the good.
For example, the Levy County School District in Florida was providing meals at no cost to all children 18 years of age and under, and to students who have disabilities and are 21 years of age or under. Yes, all children, regardless if they are enrolled in the school or attend private schools, charter schools, or are home-schooled. Children who are homeless. Even children who do not yet attend school or are in the area visiting family members. Breakfast and lunch were delivered to all current bus stops.
Evergreen Public Schools in Washington state had over 200 school bus drivers delivering 16,000 meals per day to its students in need.
Multiple First Student locations, including at Laconia School District and Hampton School District in New Hampshire, were helping to deliver meals or instructional materials. “Our drivers take great pride in serving their communities, and we are proud to use our resources to continue to care for students during this unprecedented time,” said First Student Corporate Communications Manager Jen Biddinger.
Cody Cox at Community ISD near Dallas utilized his Transfinder routing software to identify children within his district who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The software determined the addresses of those children on a map and analyzed the most efficient route to provide much-needed food deliveries. Cox was also able to publish these delivery routes and times to share with local district families.
Technology is playing a huge role during the nationwide school closures. As a parent of two little girls, I can attest to the serious challenge of home schooling. The sheer volume of homework and activities is a full-time job. I’m lucky to have access to laptops, iPhones and the internet to utilize the mobile teaching solutions for apps and online meetings.
Transfinder President and CEO Antonio Civitella announced the free use of two-way communication tool and parent engagement app Stopfinder for the remainder of the school year. Kajeet provided internet capabilities on 500 Austin ISD school buses so students in that Texas community can continue to connect to district Chromebooks.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, STN promises to lead through the lens of information and facts, while sharing the stories of outstanding leadership and service in school transportation. The discussion of pressing issues like bus cleaning, falling fuel prices and uninterrupted employee pay continue to be a major focus in the coming months.
Thank you for your continued loyalty and support. Stay safe and healthy.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted from the April issue of School Transportation News.