As more schools start to reopen for in-person education and school buses once again return to the road, the National School Bus Safety Week, celebrated Oct. 19 – 23, provides much-needed communication on the importance of the school bus to surrounding communities.
For instance, according to technology company Burbio’s K-12 School Opening Tracker, roughly 30 million kids are back in school nationwide, a portion of which are utilizing the yellow school bus.
This year’s theme, “Red Lights Mean Stop,” draws attention to stopped school buses as they load and unload students. Illegal passing continues to be a hot discussion topic nationwide. It has already claimed the life of one child while boarding her bus this school year and injured four other students, according to data School Transportation News has collected from local news reports.
The American School Bus Council, in conjunction with the National Association of Pupil Transportation (NAPT) that holds the annual week during the third full week in October, stated in a press release that while in the midst of COVID-19, the school bus industry has been on the forefront of promoting a safe return to school.
This summer, the Student Transportation Aliened for Return to School (STARTS) Task Force, a collaboration between NAPT, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), National School Transportation Association (NSTA) and school bus manufacturers, has been working together to research, review and report on matters relating to COVID-19 and school transportation.
“The yellow school bus epitomizes the gold standard of safety in transporting children to school,” said Curt Macysyn, executive director NSTA. “School buses are the safest way to get to and from school. And even in a COVID-19 world, that remains true. But this year, as we promote the importance of taking an active role in school bus safety, the presence of COVID-19 has required implementing new safety measures to specifically address COVID-19.”
In addition to National School Bus Safety Week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration designated October as National Pedestrian Safety Month. Charlie Hood, NASDPTS executive director, also stated in the press release for the public to treat students as pedestrians to help keep them safe while traveling to school.
States are also doing their part and recognizing school bus safety. In doing so, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly proclaimed Oct. 21 as School Transportation Day. The day recognizes over 4,000 school bus drivers who transport over 223,000 students across 60 million miles a year.
Prompting School Bus Safety
First Student, the largest private school bus contractor operating across North America, is using this week to remind motorists to pay attention to laws about stopping for school buses that are loading and unloading students.
“When motorists illegally pass a school bus, it may save time, but it could cost lives,” said First Student President Paul G. Osland. “We all have an important role to play to ensure children are safe in and around the school bus. Our drivers take tremendous care when transporting students. We also need motorists to be alert for school buses and aware of stop-arm laws.”
Student Transportation of America (STA), another school transportation contractor operating throughout the U.S. and Canada, is also utilizing the week to focus on education. At the start of the week, STA launched a new website, “Working Together to Stay Safe” which is dedicated to providing customers and students with timely COVID-19 resources to help promote the teamwork needed for safe and reliable student transportation.
The website includes resources on everything from classrooms and school hallways to bus-focused information and resources to help students become familiar with the new bus environment.
“Our new ‘Working Together to Stay Safe’ website truly highlights STA’s commitment to the health and safety of our employees, passengers and customers, while remaining committed to transporting the more than 1.25 million students who depend on us to safely get to and from school,” said Shelly Hall, vice president of health and safety for STA. “We are thrilled to launch it in conjunction with NAPT’s School Bus Safety Week and hope customers and parents see it as a helpful resource.”
Associations and school districts are also participating in the week. For instance, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation is also reminding motorists that they must stop for school buses when loading and unloading children. The NYAPT reported that over 50,000 motorists in New York Illegally pass stopped school buses every day.
“The illegal passing of stopped school buses continues to be a threat to the safe transportation of our student passengers and is simply unacceptable,” said NYAPT President Harold Nicholson, in a press release. “Please don’t be distracted while driving, and when you see a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing – STOP, a child’s life depends on it.”
The NYAPT also stated in the release, that it encourages “you” to take time out of the week to thank all those in school transportation professions for the hard work they’ve done in providing students a safe ride to and from school daily.
Related: Indiana Continues Battle Against Illegal Passing of School Buses
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Bondurant-Farrar CSD in Iowa is finishing up its student evacuation drills this week, which Transportation Director Mary Jo Hetrick said is a great end to School Bus Safety Week. The district developed a short video earlier this month to be shown prior to the students participating in student evacuation drills.
Hetrick said even with all the changes due to COVID-19, the state still requires bus evacuations to be taught in both the fall and spring. Showing the video to students prior to the drill helps to shorten the length of time students are on the bus, Hetrick said. She added the number of students is also reduced due to a hybrid learning model.
“The teachers actually like having the video first,” Hetrick said. “They say it details the different types of exits, equipment, etc. so that the students are able to see how to actually operate them before heading out to the drill. We may continue to show the video in future drills. One good thing because of COVID-19 you could say.”
Meanwhile, Warsaw Community Schools in Indiana, located towards the northern border of the state, is using the week to display daily photos of each bus driver on the electronic sign at Warsaw Community High School, according to years of service.
“WCS invites the public to support the transportation department by taking time to remind children how to be safe around school buses,” a press release from the district sates. “Motorists are reminded to observe laws protecting children entering and exiting school buses. Join WCS in thanking bus drivers, mechanics, office staff, and administration in the transportation department to let them know how much they are appreciated for all their hard work.”
Unfortunately, Shelby Eastern Schools also in Indiana, located 37 miles south of Indianapolis, wasn’t able to fully celebrate as its fall break fell this week. But that didn’t stop Transportation Director Katrina Falk from recognizing her drivers. She said she bought t-shirts for all of her drivers and handed them out the week before.
Falk added she normally recognizes her drivers throughout the week, and the district also runs a week-long social media campaign on school bus safety.
Pettisville Schools in Ohio was able to reach out to its local newspaper to feature School Bus Safety Week. District secretary Deb Graber said several school bus drivers were interviewed and will have their pictures in the paper.
“I anticipate this article will bring awareness to the community regarding what our bus drivers do each and every day to keep our kids safe,” Graber added.
Editor’s Note: How is your school district or company celebrating national School Bus Safety Week? Send all descriptions and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.