As we look back at 2020, the School Transportation News editorial staff evaluated the most popular online articles and found to little surprise that readers were most interested in COVID-19 news and guidance.
Like many districts around the nation, Colorado school districts spent the summer trying to come up with strategies for safely transporting students again amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous challenges, such as driver shortages, the need for additional training, purchasing, and installing protective equipment such as barriers, contributed to the already difficult situation of operating with limited and cut budgets. Greg Jackson, the executive director of transportation and fleet services for Jeffco Public Schools near Denver, said he hopes that the district will be able to work with other districts and school bus contractors to meet all the needs of transporting students when schools reopen.
Following a webinar hosted by school bus routing and management company Transfinder in May, industry professionals attempted to answer the million-dollar question of what happens to the pupil transportation industry when schools reopen. The rapid rise of unemployment in the school transportation industry left many wondering what it will look like during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Many districts are still operating a hybrid learning model, switching between in-person and distance learning, with many remaining fully virtual. At this report, larger cities like New York were struggling to reopen because of the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases.
Many states released reopening guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year, which closely mirror the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 safety guidance. Most of the state guidelines include similar precautions, such as requiring face masks for student passengers and drivers, frequent sanitation in high contact areas, and providing training for school transportation employees on COVID-19-related protocols.
Due to the impasses between Republicans and Democrats on the details of a federal relief package, the National Student Transportation Association issued a plea to Senate leaders to require all states to continue to fund school transportation and provide $2.8 in emergency relief funds. About 200,000 of the nation’s 500,000 school buses are operated by contractors who are lost $85 million every week that schools remained closed, thus it caused and continues to cause a pressing need for immediate federal aid. The Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act approved into law in December ultimately offered motorcoach companies and by extension some school bus contractors $2 billion in relief.
A new stimulus package was proposed by congressional Democrats to provide increased pay for essential front line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Student Transportation Association pushed for school bus drivers to be included as candidates for relief from the “COVID-19 Heroes Fund.” The plan would have provided a $25,000 premium pay increase, equivalent to a $13 an hour raise, for essential workers, retroactive to the start of the public health emergency on Jan. 27 and in place until the end of this year. The plan never materialized.
Wisconsin approved the installation of barriers in school buses, either between student passengers or around the driver, to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure, despite discussions that these shields would compromise federal school bus crashworthiness standards. [The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration later said that certain barriers it reviewed could be used, but the advice is not binding and state regulations take precedence.] However, Wisconsin’s guidance stated there are certain conditions that must be upheld with the addition of the clear, plastic “sneeze guards” between students and bus drivers. These conditions include ensuring that the barrier doesn’t restrict accessibility for the driver from the school bus controls or create any other safety hazards.
According to an STN web poll in April, 38 percent of over 700 readers reported that their districts’ school bus drivers and contractor employees weren’t being paid after school closures caused by COVID-19. With budgets being stretched to the limit during the pandemic, many state governors utilized executive power to ensure that bus drivers were paid so that school transportation can resume smoothly upon schools reopening.
As some schools began to reopen for in-person learning in the fall, many transportation departments were left trying to find safe and accurate ways to perform health checks and screen students before boarding the bus. There are many variables to be considered even when taking a student’s temperature, where allowed, as well as considerations of protocol if a student has visible symptoms that would keep them from riding the bus. While there is the possibility of an app that would allow parents to enter in symptoms, the accuracy of such technology is a point of concern for school districts.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed unanimously and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act includes $13.5 billion in funds for schools, if they continue to pay their employees and contractors despite pandemic related closures. The National School Transportation Association said that the bill will provide relief for thousands of school bus drivers, mechanics, and other support staff, and encouraged states to continue paying their school district employees and contractors through the COVID-19 crisis.
On March 13, President Donald Trump issued a national state of emergency due to COVID-19 which led to nationwide school shutdowns. School transportation departments developed plans to utilize school buses for meal delivery and distributing school supplies while waiting for the CDC)guidance for safely bringing students back to the classroom via the yellow school bus. However, in May the CDC recommended one student per school bus seat, skipping rows to account for social distancing practices when heading back to school. The most-read article of 2020 spurred conversation on STNs social media, questioning the reality and feasibility of that statement. Another recommendation included screening students for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to boarding them.
This webinar brought together three instructors of the Child Passenger Safety on School Buses eight-hour seminar approved by NHTSA to answer questions on how to properly secure preschoolers and students with disabilities in child safety restraint systems as well as safely clean and disinfect the equipment while transporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this podcast, the topic of discussion was how school districts are getting creative with new bus technology for the upcoming school year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It featured a rural Wisconsin school district and a Virginia school district that serves a large metro area on how they are incorporating CDC guidelines into their reopening plans.
The Lion Electric Company, a leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of all-electric medium and heavy-duty urban vehicles, announced it intends to combine with Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp.
Zina Ronca, a driver supervisor for contractor DuVall Bus Service, LLC in West Grove, Pennsylvania, discussed the difficulties student transportation employees face and how COVID-19 has further impacted drivers nationwide.