In Moves to Protect School Staff, Don’t Forget Bus Drivers

File photo courtesy Clark County (Nev.) School District, pre-pandemic

As I write this, it is the height of summer. Normally our work schedules would be staggered with vacations, weekends at the beach, trips to the community pool, and cookouts with family and friends. Pupil transporters at districts and bus companies all across the country would know for certain when the first day of school was and would be in the midst of dry runs for routes, staffing plans, and refresher training.

This time around, not so much.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, we continue to wonder and worry. We stay home, social distance, wear masks. Many communities still don’t know when students will physically be able to return to school. That of course leads to transportation departments trying to determine how many buses to run, how many drivers, technicians, trainers, dispatchers, etc., to staff, and how to protect every single person who sets foot on their buses from catching a potentially deadly virus.

I think we can all agree that all the media coverage of when and how schools nationwide will reopen, what classrooms will look like, and the risks to teachers, is vital. Still, the safety and well-being of the people taking children to and from school should receive more attention.

In a recent blog post from The Brookings Institute, authors Andre M. Perry and Annelies Goger point to the fact that school support staff members, such as bus drivers, are just as important to students as teachers. In fact, workers in these support roles comprise more than half (57%) of public school employees.

“In conversations about reopening schools, consideration of its effect on employees such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, substitute teachers, and non-instructional staff seldom reaches the forefront,” they write.

Perry and Goger add that these staff members, who are also crucial to the education experience, often have fewer benefits and protections and lower wages than teachers.“If we are serious about keeping children safe, then we must protect the most vulnerable people closest to them,” the authors state.

Meanwhile, the industry has stepped up planning resources that can meet the needs of just about any school transportation provider, regardless of size, budget, or geographic location.

Despite all the media coverage of when and how schools nationwide will reopen and what classrooms will look like, the safety and well-being of the people taking children to and from school should receive more attention.

The Student Transportation Aligned for Return To School (STARTS) Task Force report offers tools and several factors for districts of all sizes and in a variety of regions to consider, and, since different areas have been impacted by the pandemic to differing degrees, needs will vary. The task force, which is comprised of the three major student transportation associations — the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) — operates with the goal of offering practical information to help student transportation providers during the pandemic as they prepare for when schools reopen.

As Curt Macysyn, the NSTA’s executive director, mentioned in a recent blog post, the report serves as a recommended process to follow to ensure that all relevant decisions are addressed. In particular, it includes 27 guidelines and lists the related tasks.

Among those are sanitization and contact tracing. We have also posted a story on products to help protect bus passengers — staff and students — from coronavirus. In addition to using disinfectants on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) List N, we highlight just a handful of available products beyond personal protective equipment and disinfectants, such as an ultraviolet light system, a tracking system, and an app and digital solution that help track cleaning and conduct contact tracing.

As we know, the yellow bus is the safest way to get students to and from school, and even during this challenging time, it will continue to be. Even if the media doesn’t often take notice of pupil transporters, industry leaders and suppliers are working hard to provide guidance and tools to protect drivers and other transportation staff as well as students.  

About the author
Nicole Schlosser

Nicole Schlosser

Former Executive Editor

Nicole was an editor and writer for School Bus Fleet. She previously worked as an editor and writer for Metro Magazine, School Bus Fleet's sister publication.

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