File photo courtesy JD Hardin

File photo courtesy JD Hardin

On behalf of all the members and staff at the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), I want to begin this post by commending everyone for making a huge impact on containing and fighting this coronavirus crisis. Nurses, doctors, and others on the front lines continue to support our communities in what seems like an hour-by-hour fight for our lives. Without question, these brave heroes are keeping us safe. Thank you!

As I sit at home writing this column, I am reminded of all the wonderful uses the ordinary yellow school bus has taken on recently: Wi-Fi hotspots, care units for hospitals, transportation for first responders, and not to mention the thousands of meals we as an industry have delivered in partnership with school districts across the country. Who could have ever imagined we could do so much with just a yellow bus?

But what we are finding out through this crisis is that the yellow bus is not just the yellow bus anymore. It has become a portable classroom and the conduit that links our children to their schools. We have found out that learning from home has become a challenge, and that nothing can replace a child’s day-to-day school experience. And we continue to be the safest form of transportation to and from school, making all of this possible.

Most of all, everyone at NSTA would like to honor transportation staff members for their ability to help in so many different roles since the crisis began, even for some who are not being paid during this time. We have heard countless stories of drivers and monitors calling their students from home because they want to say hello and see how they are doing. Drivers are delivering food to a student’s doorstep every day, so they can see a friendly face and have something to eat. Technicians are staying after work so they can fix cars of their out-of-work coworkers. Drivers are picking up and delivering medical supplies to local hospitals. The list goes on.

Within NSTA, we saw the industry close ranks and help get language supporting transportation professionals during the pandemic — Section 18006 in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

John Benish Jr. is the president of the National School Transportation Association.

John Benish Jr. is the president of the National School Transportation Association.

Our grassroots effort was truly unique, as we could not converge on Capitol Hill. Instead, we relied upon a flurry of virtual activity, conference calls, webinars, and good old-fashioned emails to get our point across. The language in Section 18006 conveys the intent of Congress that school districts shall continue to pay transportation contractors and employees, as they normally would, through the COVID-19 health crisis.

There are other areas of the bill that impact school bus contractors, including boosted unemployment insurance benefits, a massive loan program through the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as employee retention credit for employers subject to closure due to COVID-19 and a provision that can delay payment of employer payroll taxes. The CARES Act is an 880-page monster that has been the subject of several NSTA webinars, as we continue to get information out to those who need it to survive this turbulent period.

COVID-19 is something none of us could have imagined, and no one knows how these events will play out, but seeing the industry pull together shows what we can accomplish with our commitment and resolve when unified. So many folks reached out to elected officials that eventually the student transportation industry’s concerns were heard, even when other sectors of the economy were not.

The last several weeks have gotten the yellow bus involved in areas we may not have previously envisioned, but we have always answered the call. Here’s hoping for better days on the horizon.
On behalf of NSTA, we are thinking of you all, and wish you and your families hope and peace.