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THOUGHT LEADER


proposed herein will afford students a significant window for not only domestic catch-up, but worldwide catch-up. If we can give our students six days of school a week, with classes half their normal size, add a teacher’s aide to every classroom, get our students healthy, and even encourage learning on the bus, our students can truly catch up – if they cannot indeed forge ahead, especially if this model must be sustained for several more years.


Challenges Ahead These tasks and adjustments seem like a lot to perform


in five months. While almost every element noted is difficult, each is possible, and we have enough time to accomplish them. And the tasks are broken up among a variety of participants, including hundreds of exception- al individuals within the educational and transportation communities, the healthcare community, the vehicle manufacturing community, major corporations, and others. Thousands of transportation officials and staff have months to learn how to design systems and create routes. Plus, the students will receive five months of Zoom schooling during the transition/preparation pe- riod. Many activities—primarily those involving health, diet, exercise and sleep—will prepare the students for greater productivity and sustained health once they physically return to school. Every challenge cannot be addressed in a single


article, no matter how long. One particularly troubling problem is the fact that many students currently travel to and from school on transit, a Petri dish being worsened as ridership returns while transit agencies are using the virus as an excuse to reduce levels of service, and as a result, squeezing many passengers closer together than they were before the pandemic arrived. To keep these students safe, we will have to mode-split them to other modes of school travel. Otherwise, we will have to pri- oritize their constant testing and the speed of obtaining their test results. In tying the need for testing to the success of any


back-to-school model, each student physically attend- ing school must be tested once or three times a week (depending on the variation, as noted above). And these students must obtain the results of their tests before stepping onto the school bus before their next trip to school. If they cannot be tested, when their tests turn up positive, or if their test results cannot be produced quickly enough, these students will face periods of quar- antine and even more Zoom school. More troubling, it is impossible to completely con-


trol the behavior of the population at large, members of which all or most students will encounter while away from school. A July 17, 2020 article in the New York


54 School Transportation News • OCTOBER 2020


Times noted that 14 percent of Americans never wear masks. Even in Vietnam, whose first COVID-19-related death occurred this past July 31, 71 percent of its popula- tion always wears masks (in appropriate circumstances). Only 59 percent of Americans always do so (in appro- priate circumstances). If this model is to succeed, this behavior outside of school must change. If a small group of each state’s “finest” can tweak this model into a detailed plan tailored to their school districts’ densities, demographics, fleet sizes, school locations and storage yard locations—and do so in a matter of weeks—they can hand their respective gover- nors a detailed plan by mid- or late November that will give them the justification for postponing the launch of a dangerously premature return to school, and a coher- ent argument for doing so to constituents at all points along the political spectrum. And these plans will pro- vide realistic hope for those who already experienced the failures of some premature returns to school. If we continue to take thousands of variations of


isolated stabs at a return to school, without optimiz- ing and coordinating the factors to make this return safe and permanent, then it will continue to fail, and (absent the unlikely miracle vaccine and its near-uni- versal acceptance) we will face a choice between years of compromised virtual learning or the development of herd immunity that will likely leave more than 10 million Americans dead in its wake. (2.97 percent of those in- fected die, and we have 330 million people.) Patience is no longer a virtue. It has become a necessity. But infinite patience will not be needed with a sound plan and a commitment to implement it. If this overview accomplishes nothing else, it should


provide a preview of the cost of both success and failure. To re-emerge as a coherent, functioning nation, with tens of millions of cases of infection likely to emerge in the next year (assuming we have enough testing to ver- ify them), a model like this one may be our last chance. We cannot afford to fail. This effort is not a contest. It is not even a goal. It is Normandy. ●


Ned Einstein is a contributor to School Transportation News and an expert witness and consultant with Transportation Alternatives in New York. He can be reached at www.transalt.com. All opinions expressed are his own.


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