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You Don’t Miss Something, Until It’s Taken Away

The coronavirus has quickly taken away so much from our society. It is hard to wrap my head around it. This situation has provided a wake-up call to me and my wife as parents. We didn’t realize how much we appreciated the education and school environment that teachers provide our two daughters with on a daily basis.

As a result of this situation, my wife and I have now embarked on assisting our 5-year-old daughter with her kindergarten distance learning. She follows a lesson plan we receive weekly via email. She participates in daily Zoom meetings to engage in science, math and English lessons. We have learned that our daughter isn’t nearly as focused at home as she would be at school. Additionally, she is craving that interaction with her friends from beyond the computer screen. If you are a parent with kids in school, I’m sure you are feeling the same way I am.

Keep in mind, a high percentage of working parents don’t have the luxury of homeschooling their children because they can’t work from home, due to their essential job functions. Homeschool is also not only time consuming but emotionally draining.

Now, what are the next steps for families, schools and student transporters to take, to return to some semblance of normalcy? One thing I know is that we are all in this together. School transportation professionals will be facing similar challenges amid this new normal. It’s time to lean on each other for help and ideas. Don’t become paralyzed by the unknown.

During a recent School Transportation Nation podcast, I spoke with guest Tim Ammon, co-owner at Decision Support Group. Ammon said that school transportation was going to be the lynchpin to a successful school restart in the fall.

“Things are going to be different as educational services are going to be reconsidered, and that will trickle down to transportation,” he said, predicting that there will be fundamental differences than in the past, which will likely cause inefficiencies that won’t be easily cured.

Imagine a 72-passenger school bus with maximum limit of 14 children onboard, due to social distancing requirements. How about different grade levels attending school on different days and times? It’s clear that we can’t simply go back to the shelf and grab the old plans to solve our current challenges.

So how do we prepare ourselves?

We need to build resiliency and flexibility into school transportation operations. The biggest thing we are going to need is massive innovation, thoughtful leadership and disciplined decision-making. Ammon also recommended that student transporters take inventory of their current challenges and start putting the people and processes in place to take on those challenges immediately.

“I’ve been working with my superintendent on establishing budgets for the 2020-2021 school year and creating a plan of action to get transportation ready for the fall,” shared Greg Jackson, executive director of transportation and fleet services at Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado. He observed that one big question remains to be answered: Which students would be required to be transported? Parents and children might lose transportation services because of budgetary restrictions.

I’m no economist, but it’s pretty easy to see that historic unemployment numbers and reduced tax revenue will impact our industry. How bad will it be? No one knows. But the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and the Paycheck Protection Plan are bright spots. States will likely need to step in and offer fiscal support to schools to provide services, like what has happened in Indiana. Gov. Eric Holcomb provided flexibility to school districts for how they conduct school bus drills, inspections and driver requirements, during school closures.

School transportation is an underappreciated yet an essential service that 26 million children and their parents count on to access to education. What happens if you take that service away? We have a massive responsibility ahead of us and I think our industry is up for the task of supporting kids like we always have. Take this opportunity to redefine school transportation’s value in the educational equation. Don’t wait, take action now and start tackling those challenges, today.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted from the May issue of School Transportation News. 

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