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The Road to Reopening

Last month, President Joe Biden committed to reopening K-8 schools for in-person classes
“five days a week,” within his first 100 days in the Oval Office. But is it really possible? So many variables are at play on a national and local level. At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.

“You’ll have a significant percentage of [schools] being able to be open. My guess is they’re going to probably be pushing to open all summer, to continue like it’s a different semester,” Biden added.

School transportation has always been committed to providing the children, families and communities with safe reliable service, and it’s about to be our time to truly shine. But it’s going to take resources to put our best foot forward. The good news is the much-needed third federal coronavirus relief package is expected to be signed this month, and $130 billion is earmarked for K-12 public

It’s a rare occurrence when this much federal money will flow directly to schools for a safe reopening. And more than ever during this pandemic, school buses are clearly being seen as an extension of the classroom.

School bus drivers are the first and last district representatives that many of our students see each day, so you must advocate for the school transportation department to receive its fair share of these resources. Ask for what you want and need now. Don’t wait for your district administration to come to you. Every department throughout the school district has needs, and yours is just as important as theirs.

It’s imperative that you are communicating with stakeholders about the value and importance of more school buses and related solutions necessary for social distancing, contact tracing, student ridership technology, Wi-Fi, GPS, state-of-the-art cleaning and disinfecting, air purification and ventilation, parent communication apps, and routing software. The list goes on. You need to be specific and share the value of each tool you need and the problem it aims to solve. Don’t assume your administration knows or understands the granularity of your daily operational challenges. That’s why you’re there, right?

In a recent interview with Associate Editor Taylor Hannon, Dr. Michelle Reid, the superintendent for North Shore School District near Seattle, shared how she’s investing in her school transportation department.

“I think in this current COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 world, making sure that our buses are healthy and safe is most important,” explained Reid, who was named the 2021 Superintendent of the Year Award last month by sponsors First Student, AIG Retirement Services and The School Superintendents Association. “I know we’ll be disinfecting buses. We already are in different ways than we were before. We’re using technologies to make sure we have correct students on the buses.”

She added that health and safety have shifted dramatically in terms of social distancing practices and transporting fewer students at a time.

In order to achieve adequate social distancing, North Shore’s transportation department was able to purchase an additional 10 buses. It also implemented a mobile app from its school bus routing company to provide information to parents on the estimated arrival time of school buses. Reid said the technology gives another layer of security for students and drivers, as it tracks when buses are running late and gives updates to parents if weather challenges occur. Read more at stnonline.com/go/8e.

North Shore is but one example of a school district that is putting a priority on transportation needs. It’s our job to be ready to roll when schools reopen, to provide our children with access to opportunities, experiences and knowledge.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be recognized and appreciated as a key part of the educational system. Feel proud that you did everything possible to advocate for the kids and drivers that ride on your school buses every day. Carpe diem!

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the February 2021 issue of School Transportation News. 

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