I remember when late August, September and October were known more for leaf peeping, pumpkin picking and tailgate parties than for politics.
It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it must be because I honestly can’t remember a back-to-school season that hasn’t been infested by a partisan political campaign of some sort — and an acrimonious one at that.
This year, of course, Republicans and Democrats have been waging an intense battle for the White House. If you’re like me, you are probably watching and listening carefully to the candidates, wondering whether any of them have a clue about what could make them “Legends of the Fall.”
There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of us who believe the yellow school bus is the safest, most economical, most energy-responsive and most environmentally friendly way to transport our children to and from school each day. We also believe there is an important link between the yellow school bus and the performance of our children in the classroom; ensuring access to the school bus helps to ensure access to educational services and ultimately educational attainment.
Anyone with an ounce of common sense can understand the concepts. Yet we have to consistently fight, tooth and nail in some cases, to ensure our communities can get children to and from school safely. Just talk to someone from California, or Ohio, or Florida — almost anywhere — and you will find out pretty quickly how big the problem is.
Eligibility is the key to our sustainability and viability as an industry. If more kids are eligible to ride in school buses, more kids are likely to ride in school buses. If we make them ineligible, they will be forced into alternate ways of getting to and from school, all of which are less safe (and less efficient) than a yellow school bus.
As I have written before, reductions in eligibility can no longer be acceptable to us. And we must be ready and willing to partner with any party or candidate who will embrace that view.
Readers of this space know that NAPT and all of its members believe bullying is unacceptable. We believe it is one of the reasons that kids who can ride a school bus don’t. So we are taking it head on.
Two years ago, just before the NAPT Summit in Portland, Ore., bullying aboard school buses literally jumped onto the national scene when a Sanford, Fla., father took matters into his own hands, boarded his daughter’s school bus and angrily confronted her alleged bullies.
It was one of those seminal stories that triggered a huge news cycle — bullying became a national “issue” with all the prominence and emotion that such stories put in play. The father became an overnight media celebrity and hero to some who believed parental vigilantism was justified because schools were not dealing decisively with reported incidents.
NAPT saw no hero. But we wanted to learn why he felt compelled to break the rules and board his daughter’s school bus. He and his daughter were invited to Portland to participate in a town hall meeting on bullying that was the first effort by our industry to bring together victims and experts to better understand the dynamics of the problem and to begin strategizing on how to address it effectively within our industry.
We ruffled some feathers by doing so. But getting at the root of a serious problem is not easy. It sometimes requires you to put yourself in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations, partnering with organizations and individuals with whom you would not ordinarily interact.
At the national level, we did just that. In the last two years, I have been on a crusade of sorts, personally attending numerous conferences and events across the country, in the halls of Congress and at the White House, actively working with anyone who is trying to prevent bullying.
NAPT is pleased to be a part of the bigger national effort to eliminate bullying, but make no mistake: Improving public policy that challenges our viability is not easy. Rest assured, however, that we will continue our work to provide school districts locally with the latest information on the best ways to deal with this serious problem.
We are also going to be very involved in making policymakers at all levels of government aware of the vexing problems created when school bus service is threatened by cuts (in dollars or routes) or eliminated.
We will continue to work with a broad group of organizations and individuals that have come together to seek solutions. We will support them, we hope they will support us, and together we will support those policymakers who are willing to help protect what we believe is one of the best public services ever provided.
Michael J. Martin is executive director of NAPT.