The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) is calling for school bus drivers to be classified as a high priority in federal recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine allocations.
The NSTA submitted on Monday comments to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in support of school bus drivers being classified as a high priority in the ACIP recommendations for Phased Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccines, according to a news release from the NSTA.
The NSTA gave the testimony during the committee’s November 2020 meeting, which was held virtually on Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Private school bus transportation companies account for 38% of bus service for school districts around the country, employing over 250,000 individuals. Industrywide, almost 26 million students are transported to and from school daily, utilizing nearly 500,000 school buses.
In its testimony, NSTA estimated that 5% to 10% of industry bus drivers are currently sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, and these numbers continue to rise. The statistics include drivers who are infected, exposed, and quarantined, as well as those who have taken a leave of absence. NSTA also estimates that approximately 33% of school bus drivers are 60 or older, and some are driving in a part-time capacity.
Also bolstering the NSTA position is the fact that school bus drivers are included on the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers. School bus drivers are listed in both the Education and the Transportation sections of the latest version of this document from August 2020. The inclusion of school bus drivers on this list indicates that CISA considers them critical to the nation’s infrastructure, and NSTA believes the previous CISA action further supports the inclusion of school bus drivers as a priority occupation for the phased allocation of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“NSTA believes school bus drivers deserve high priority in COVID-19 vaccine distribution because of the critical importance of their jobs to safely transport children to and from school and to continue to be able to deliver school nutrition supplies and Wi-Fi to students learning from home,” Curt Macysyn, NSTA’s executive director, said in his testimony. “CISA has already included them on their list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.”
With one-third of the school bus driver workforce being over the age of 60, as Macysyn noted in the NSTA’s comments, and with many falling into the “high risk” category, the urgent need to be granted priority treatment is clear. In addition, providing high priority for bus drivers will also help in efforts to retain drivers, as well as recruit new drivers. Without a healthy and robust force of school bus drivers, more children may be forced into less safe ways to get to and from school, and many will have no safe way to get to school at all, according to the NSTA.
School bus transportation is among the most regulated forms of transportation in the country at federal and state levels, and rightfully so, given its important place within the educational infrastructure, Macysyn added in the comments. These elements combined contribute to ensuring student transportation’s extraordinary safety record. Because of that record, NSTA consistently supports access to the school bus for as many children as possible. In some cases, the yellow bus provides the only access to education for schoolchildren in rural and urban areas.
NSTA remains hopeful that all children can fully return to the benefit of in-class learning in the early months of 2021, and immunizing school bus drivers will clearly facilitate that process, according to the association’s news release. School bus operators must be ready to provide those students the safe, effective, reliable yellow school bus transportation that 26 million of them have come to depend on. For those children, their trained and skilled professional school bus driver is the first person they see each morning, and well as the last person after their school day concludes. Right now, it is critical to ensure the continued viability of school bus transportation for these children that rely on the yellow school bus.
“NSTA urges ACIP to recommend priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine for school bus drivers, so that parents and students alike can continue to rely on the yellow bus as the safest method of getting to school,” Macysyn said in his testimony.