As I reflect on all that has happened this year, a quote by President Ronald Regan comes to mind: “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” I feel like this is the mantra of the school transportation industry. I see a passionate industry of doers that is laser-focused on helping kids.
One would think that with COVID-19 hitting full force in March that our industry would be completely sidelined, but that surely hasn’t been the case. Countless stories of food and school supply deliveries brought hope and assistance to school children and their families via the yellow school bus. Today, the whole ordeal seems like a distant memory, until you realize that it continues to be an important service school transportation is offering this fall.
As many school transportation operations ramp up in November from all-virtual education models, joining those that have been fully running in-person now for months, I feel a sense of community, pride and excitement that our industry is going to bring back a huge sense of normalcy for millions of children and their families.
Students will be back at all grade levels this month for in-person learning, said interim transportation director Sam Ham at Cobb County School District, the second-largest district in Georgia and one of the largest in the nation.
Many school districts and school bus contractors I’ve spoken with have said that special needs students are returning first for in-person education. Brooke Garcia, president and CEO of 4Seasons Transportation, a contractor in Calgary, Alberta, said many parents don’t have the necessary resources to support their special needs children at home, so they are making the decision to send them back to school to receive educational and developmental support.
Does your school transportation operation transport special needs children? Are you facing new challenges with COVID-19 that you have never dealt with before? The answer to both questions is surely yes. I want to invite you to attend the TSD Virtual conference on Nov. 9-11. The team at STN and our conference tenured faculty and advisors are committed to providing invaluable information to assist you with transporting these at-risk students.
Attendees can look forward to a keynote address from Dr. Marilyn Bull of Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. She will share the American Academy of Pediatrics interim guidance on cleaning child safety restraint systems as well as a position that encourages the safe return of students to school. Her associate Dr. Joseph O’Neil will discuss the implications of COVID-19 when transporting students with health issues. Visit tsdconference.com to view a full educational agenda.
With more and more schools starting up service every day, new challenges are sure to arise. According to a recent survey of 647 transportation directors who attended the recent virtual Bus Technology Summit (BTS) in September, the top challenges they face from COVID-19 are cleaning and PPE. Respondents identified operational efficiency and student safety as other top challenges, too.
BTS survey respondents also identified specific products they intend to purchase by next fall, like parent communication apps, video security systems, Wi-Fi for student connectivity, routing software, GPS/GIS and onboard tablets/mobile data terminals.
I believe the economic impact of the health crisis will undoubtedly have ripple effects for years to come. The question is, how much will it impact school transportation? Time and time again, school transportation is asked to do more with less, and this is no exception. OEMs and suppliers have indicated a clear reduction in school bus purchasing in the short-term. Are you buying new school buses right now or waiting? Interestingly, more than half of BTS survey respondents indicated they would be buying new school buses in the next 12-months.
In speaking to numerous transportation directors, I have heard that many districts have received similar budget allocations to last year, which is great news. But many buyers are making the conscious decision to conserve funds until they get a clear direction on school transportation needs for this fall.
We are all trying to look into the crystal ball and predict the future, but it’s challenging. Soon, we will know the much-anticipated results of the U.S. presidential election. Our fingers are crossed that a second economic stimulus bill will be passed to help out Americans and countless small businesses.
In the meantime, I plan to help others along the way in these challenging times. I hope you do the same. God bless and take care.
Editor‘s Note: As reprinted from the November issue of School Transportation News.