March 5, 2024

Planning for COVID-19 Recovery: Where Do You Start?

Author: Ryan Smithson
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“I can’t wait to go back to school.”   

How many times have you heard a student say that in your career? Not many, I’m guessing, but students are saying it now. For that matter so are the teachers, administrators, food service workers, fleet technicians, and parents in this time of shut-downs and virtual learning.

But that statement comes with questions. When “going back” implies students stepping on and off a bus again, we have to wonder: Will it be in reduced numbers? Or at different times? How can we do this safely, efficiently, and with limited resources? The transportation puzzle is already complex; add COVID-19 recovery to that, and you’ve got some very challenging planning ahead of you.

Decision-makers are preparing for every possible scenario and trying to predict the impact of each on their operations, employees, and students: How would day variant schedules affect the transportation department? Would new bell times create a challenge in a large geographical area? Will the decisions be permanent or temporary, or will the district take a phased approach? Will different grade-levels have different distance learning schedules?

The decisions that will guide us to the “new normal” all start with the same thing: data. Engaging your resources now to run multiple what-if scenarios is key. This is precisely where routing software can help. Let’s take a look at how you can use technology to find solutions for various COVID-19 recovery possibilities.

  • Social distancing in the classroom

If half of the students are using distance learning while the other half are attending school in person, educators will need to alternate groups to give each student equal classroom time. Districts will most likely require day-variant transportation plans to get the correct group of students to school each day. K-12 transportation routing software can help you define the impact of scenarios such as:

  • Students last name A-L attend on Mondays and Wednesdays, last name M-Z attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with everyone distance learning on Fridays.
  • Students who need help with math attend from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and distance learn in the afternoon. Students who need help with English attend 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and distance learn in the morning.

Social distancing on the bus

Another possible scenario would be loading one student in every other seat, which equates to 10 to 12 students on a full-sized bus. Routes are that might typically be planned by geography and school attendance will likely be revised to reflect student needs like grade, program, building, IEP, class size, etc. While day variant attendance may naturally reduce the number of students riding the bus each day, it almost certainly will not do it evenly. Bus occupancy of 15% without other creative planning would mean trying to double or triple the size of a district’s fleet. Very few will be able to make that kind of investment, and even if they could, they would face the challenges of limited supply, bus yard space, and available drivers. Routing software can help you explain the costs and timeline of any requested changes along these lines to the relevant decision-makers.

Impacts on families

Parents’ work schedules (and our economy) are highly dependent on the predictability of the school bus. So if days, bell times, and student schedules are all in flux, it will make this hallmark of school transportation even more difficult to achieve. Your routing software should be able to tell you which students have wide fluctuations in stop times so you can measure the impact on your community and help communicate needed timing to your parents.

  • Students with special needs

Each student’s needs will have to be carefully taken into consideration in order to provide the proper transportation in the Least Restrictive Environment in accordance with IDEA. Therefore the members of each IEP team will make the best decisions and those will vary for each student. Here’s a great outline by the State of Maryland for special needs guidelines regarding recovery.

Routing software should be extremely flexible to give you the power to:

  • Automate different days of the week for different sets of students
  • Enter various bell times for the same school and/or different sets of runs
  • Use unlimited custom fields to track and manage data for students, drivers, vehicles, runs, and buildings.
  • Modify student records, runs and other information in unlimited what-if scenarios without affecting what’s happening in the live environment or having to copy everything into an entirely new database

When you factor in everything else transportation departments must consider — multiple addresses for one student, daycare drop-offs, transfer locations, driver callouts, breakdowns, parent requests, emergency evacuations, and more — COVID-19 recovery adds a very complicated logistical layer. Luckily, every transportation department I’ve ever talked to is filled with people who’ve mastered the art of putting a complex puzzle together, and then fixing that puzzle when things inevitably change several times a day. A big thank you to all the professionals out there making these preparations for our students!

Content contributions by Tyler Technologies’ Industry Engagement Consultant, Kim Rentner.