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What’s Your Risk Tolerance Level?

Great news. Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is reopening on July 17. Would you go with your family? I wouldn’t take my family quite yet.

My wife and I are in our late 30s and early 40s, respectively, with two young children, and we have been cautious about returning to life as we knew it. In early June, we hosted our 6-year-old daughter’s “drive-by” birthday party in our front yard. To my surprise, parents got out of their cars with their children, everyone with masks on. Adults talked and mingled while trying to keep social distance, but the kids were another story.

My daughter’s friends and kindergarten classmates, mainly five and six years old, played together. It was great to see them so happy and full of excitement, amid all the hardship of being apart. With school being cut short so abruptly, it was the first time in months that they were together, besides in a Zoom meeting.

At first, the kids didn’t touch each other and remained somewhat distant. But that quickly evolved to hugging, gameplaying and eating snacks. Most of the kids kept their mask on, while others had them on and off, intermittently. How are students at this age going to maintain all these safety standards during the school day or on the school bus?

Frankly, they are not going to be able to do it without strict policing from the teachers, aides and school bus drivers. Is that reasonable? Over time, these safeguards will breakdown and people will become more relaxed, like the behavior displayed on my daughter’s birthday.

So, when do I feel it is safe to put my child back on a school bus, not to mention take her to Disneyland? Many people are waiting for a vaccine, but that may be more than six months away. Distance learning appears to be here to stay, at least in some form. What does that mean for schools and busing?

Families have to gauge their risk tolerance before returning to “normal” life, and that includes the school bus ride. Everyone has a different opinion on the matter. The hope is that all the stakeholders are doing their best to maintain safety and health protocols amid COVID-19.

“I recommend you address parent anxiety now,” said Tim Ammon, co-owner of Decision Support Group and a member of the industry’s Student Transportation Aligned for Return to School (STARTS) Task Force. “Communicate your plan with the parents sooner rather than later. One way to reduce anxiety is to communicate often, clearly describing what you are doing, and anywhere you can show what you are doing to protect their kids.”

Last month, the Kentucky Department of Education reversed its social distancing and mask safety protocols on school buses, citing the belief that the measures are both infeasible and extremely expensive to implement. Ammon commented that this shift in state policy might happen in other states, too. Could this set the tone for routing school buses like normal again? What would parents think? What about the bus drivers?

A COVID-19 outbreak occurring at school or on a school bus would cause widespread panic. Some people are willing to take the short-term risk and others aren’t. It’s an X-and-Y grid for families.

Many states are trying to expedite answers with the help from health and safety guidance, but it is the responsibility of our industry leaders to advise them about the nuances faced daily in school transportation. But at the same time, there have been differing perspectives, to say the least about balancing health, safety and the costs associated with those challenges, when trying to get back to work. We are on the clock as an industry with regard to school reopening in a matter of weeks. The likelihood of something happening and the intensity of the impact are my biggest fears.

The task of school restart seems daunting, as what sounds good today could be a nonstarter tomorrow. But the team at STN is here to assist you. We have countless articles and resources on various topics addressing school startup amid COVID-19. Additionally, STN EXPO Reno held on Aug. 29-Sept. 2 will offer a brain trust of industry experts and focused content to help guide you and your team through these turbulent times. I hope you can make it.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted from the July issue of School Transportation News. The STN EXPO Reno has since been postponed until Nov. 1-5.

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