The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) recently petitioned the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for school bus drivers across the country to be made a high priority for phased allocation of COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. (ACIP is an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], a federal governmental agency we have heard mentioned quite a bit in the news recently.)
NSTA appreciated the opportunity to make comments in support of school bus drivers being classified as a high priority in the ACIP recommendations for the scheduled rollout of COVID-19 vaccines at a public hearing on Nov. 23. Since we are a hybrid, operating within both the educational and transportation sectors, we wanted to ensure that school bus drivers were specifically addressed in the vaccine phase deployment.
As I’m sure everyone reading this knows, school transportation is a huge part of our country’s commitment to a free and equal public education. Clearly, our industry is an essential service and school bus transportation is an extension of the overall K-12 educational system, and for many students provides the only way to get school each day.
Over the last nine months, our school bus heroes have also delivered millions of meals and supplies such as laptops and tablets, driven buses to locations that lack connectivity to provide Wi-Fi hot spots, as well as provided other specialized services. I even heard of one instance where a school bus contractor was able to return band equipment to students.
None of this should be surprising. Remember, we are the largest transportation system in the U.S., as 500,000 school buses transport over 26 million schoolchildren to and from school safely each day.
Needless to say, this period has been and continues to be a challenging environment for us, and I think I speak for everyone in saying we look forward to a complete return to in-class learning for all students. But a full return to the school building environment will not be possible without an adequate number of skilled, trained, experienced, and licensed school bus drivers.
As we said in our testimony before ACIP: “Providing equity in access to in-school learning cannot be based simply on rhetoric and good wishes.”
Right now, NSTA estimates that 5% to 10% of school bus drivers are unavailable due to complications caused by the novel coronavirus, and those numbers continue to rise. These include drivers who are infected, exposed, and quarantined, and those on a leave of absence.
NSTA also estimates that approximately 33% of industry drivers are age 60 or older and are in racially and ethnically diverse groups.To summarize, many school bus drivers remain fearful about a return to work without a vaccine and targeting this group for vaccinations will certainly assist in the prevention of further transmissions of this virus.
One additional fact: school bus drivers are included on the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers. They are listed in both the Education and Transportation sections of the latest version of this document issued this past August.
Just remember that without a healthy and plentiful workforce of drivers, more children may be forced into less safe ways to get to school, and many may not have access to pursue their educational opportunities. So, while it’s good to give praise to our school bus driver heroes, it’s also important for government to step up and provide this tangible support, which will benefit millions of schoolchildren around the country.