ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the second time, Minnesota on Wednesday officially recognized its school bus drivers, who safely transport more than 760,000 students to and from school each day.
To recognize the importance of pupil transporters, Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed Feb. 28 as School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota. School districts across the state celebrated the day by passing out thank-you cards made by students and providing food and beverages to bus drivers.
The Minnesota School Bus Operators Association (MSBOA) and Minnesota Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT) teamed up to create School Bus Driver Appreciation Day as a way to encourage school leaders, parents, and students to celebrate the often overlooked profession.
“School bus drivers transport parents’ most precious cargo — their children — day in and day out, and they do this job humbly and with great pride,” MSBOA President Josh Schiffler said. “We are thankful that Gov. Dayton has again declared Feb. 28 School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota so that we can give these humble heroes the recognition they deserve.”
Elected officials, school and law enforcement officials, and a parent spoke about the importance of school bus drivers and recognized one in particular who has gone above and beyond at a press conference held at school bus company Mainline Transportation’s office in Hopkins.
Dr. Daniel Bittman, superintendent for Independent School District 728 in Elk River, expressed his appreciation for Minnesota bus drivers and the work they do — beyond just transporting students.
“You are our unsung heroes,” Bittman said. “What you do on a day-to-day basis makes a difference for our kids and families — our kids in poverty, our kids who are struggling, our kids who just need a smile and who just need to know that they have a safe way to get to and from school. I could not do your job, and not a day goes by that I am not grateful.”
Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the Minnesota State Patrol noted that the 17,000 school bus drivers in the state transport 760,000 students to and from school each day, log 78 million miles annually in doing so, and are dedicated to student safety.
“In our bus inspections, training, and visits, the State Patrol encounters many school bus drivers who love what they do, and who take great pride in delivering your students to and from school safely and securely,” Nielson said. “We are proud to support our humble heroes on behalf of the Minnesota State Patrol.”
Intern Harold Melcher spoke on behalf of state Rep. Betty McCollum and thanked the St. Paul school bus drivers who kept students safe during a major snowstorm in January, in many cases late into the night.
One Minnesota school bus driver, Bill Drigans, was honored at the press conference with the 2018 “Humble Hero Award” for saving a kindergartner from being hit by a car that illegally passed his school bus 13 years ago. The girl’s mother thanked Drigans and credited him with her daughter being alive today.
“I am forever grateful to Bill. My daughter is now a 20-year-old. … I don’t know if Emma would be here [if he hadn't intervened]. I just know that her life, my life, our entire family's life, Bill’s life, every child on that bus, and likely every child in Fridley, where my kids went to school, would have been impacted by that.”
The girl’s mother also complimented Drigans’ instincts and training, presented him with the award, and told the audience that parents are also very grateful for school bus drivers and all the work they do to keep children safe.
Another reason that the two school transportation industry associations decided to have a day officially devoted to school bus drivers: Due to rigorous safety standards for vehicles and drivers, as well as student training efforts, students are nearly eight times safer riding to and from school in a school bus than in another vehicle, MSBOA and MAPT noted.
“School bus drivers are among the most highly-trained drivers on the road, and they have the ever-important job of protecting children,” MAPT President Derrick Agate Sr. said. “We hope that Minnesotans help us recognize school bus drivers in their communities on Feb. 28, and that more people consider this important and in-demand profession.”
Last year, Dayton proclaimed the state’s first School Bus Driver Appreciation Day on Feb. 22.