The STARTS report does not mandate one direct pathway to get students back to school safely. It provides a process to ensure that all the relevant decisions are considered and addressed. - File photo courtesy Mitzi Bowers

The STARTS report does not mandate one direct pathway to get students back to school safely. It provides a process to ensure that all the relevant decisions are considered and addressed.

File photo courtesy Mitzi Bowers

In early May, the three major student transportation associations joined to create the Student Transportation Aligned for Return To School or STARTS Task Force for short. This collaboration was the result of discussions within the group about the challenges facing pupil transportation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force relied upon the expertise of more than 75 volunteers to review state reopening plans and other reports that provided information or protocols related to COVID-19 and student transportation.

This herculean task was spearheaded by Tim Ammon, co-founder of Decision Support Group, and Jim Regan of CapitalWorks Consulting Group, who were named task force co-managers at the inception of the process. It was truly a team effort, as Jim and Tim pored over an incredible amount of research, and ultimately were able to form a consensus among the three STARTS subcommittees in developing appropriate guidelines and tasks.

The resulting report does not mandate pupil transportation professionals to follow one direct pathway to get students back to school safely, but instead provides a process to make sure that all the relevant decisions are considered and addressed. Overall, the challenge that faces student transportation remains a dynamic that comes into play quite often with respect to decisions about education: local control.

Certainly, uniform guidance would have been the best solution, but that’s just not feasible when educational decisions are mostly crafted, decided, and implemented at the local level. Also, we still must be mindful that COVID-19 has impacted regions and areas of the country differently, and at different times. A “one-size-fits-all” approach would simply not allow enough flexibility for schools to develop plans based upon information at their disposal.

Overall, think of the report as a resource written and developed by student transportation professionals for student transportation professionals. After all, we are the ones who have the experience and expertise to successfully create policy in this area.

To that end, the report outlines 27 separate guidelines for the transportation community to consider. It contains a “Transportation Reopening Plan,” which is an interactive Gantt Chart that can be used by transportation directors or school bus contractors to ensure that they stay on task.

Curt Macysyn is the executive director of the National School Transportation Association. - Photo courtesy Curt Macysyn

Curt Macysyn is the executive director of the National School Transportation Association.

Photo courtesy Curt Macysyn

In ensuring that transportation professionals consider the guidelines in the report, there are approximately 250 tasks that should be reviewed, if appropriate. Additionally, there is one area that must continue to be emphasized: While these guidelines and tasks address many elements of the pupil transportation system, transportation professionals and contractors must adhere to applicable state and local public health orders, as well as any appropriate state and federal agency regulations and guidelines.

The report was underwritten with the support of the American School Bus Council, whose membership includes the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), and National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), as well as Blue Bird, IC Bus, and Thomas Built Buses. In addition, I’d like to thank the STARTS Task Force Advisory Committee - John Barrington (Blue Bird), Trish Reed (IC Bus), Linda Bluth, Ed.D. (NAPT Foundation), Elizabeth Clark (National Association of School Nurses), James “Jed” Routh (Thomas Built Buses), and Susan Shutrump (Trumbull County Educational Service Center).

Also, our subcommittee chairs did a great job of staying on task and lending their expertise in providing the content of the report. They include: Peter Lawrence, Ed.D. (NAPT), Robert Manspeaker (NASDPTS), and Bob Ramsdell (NSTA) on the Health and Safety Committee. Meanwhile, M. Matt Sanchez (NAPT), Tina Spence M.Ed. (NASDPTS), and Bree Allen (NSTA) headed up Communications, Advocacy, and Public Relations. Finally, Kayne M. Smith Ed.D (NAPT), Mike Stier (NASDPTS), and Darryl P. Hill Ph.D. (NSTA) led the Scheduling, Routing and School Buses Committee. Thanks, everyone, for a job well done!

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