School Bus Purchase Program Applications Open November 1

The Maine Department of Education is accepting applications to receive subsidy for new school buses purchased through the School Bus Purchase Program.  The application period is November 1 through November 25, 2019.

The Department will be able to approve about $9 million in school bus allocations that combines new bus requests and the prior year bus term commitment.  Round one applications will be accepted.  This program provides subsidy to school administrative units (SAUs) in order to offset partial cost of new school buses that are used to transport students to and from home and school and school events.  This program is a resource to help SAUs purchase new school buses, retire end of life school buses, and respond to emergency and special bus needs.  Eligible vehicles must meet Code of Maine Regulations Chapter 85 minimum qualifications, with the exception of Section 3.1.

The School Bus Purchase Program instructions and application information are available on the Maine DOE’s NEO website dashboard.  For more information or technical assistance, please contact Pat Hinckley at 624-6886 or email pat.hinckley@maine.gov .

Maine Schools Join Others Around The Nation to Recognize National School Bus Safety Week October 21-25

National School Bus Safety Week, scheduled October 21-25 this year, is a public education program that promotes school bus safety. 

Nationally, each day about 480,000 school buses travel the nation’s roads transporting about 25,000,000 students to and from schools and school-related activities. This makes school buses the largest mass transportation program in the nation. 

2019 National School Bus Safety Week theme: My School Bus, The Safest Form of Student Transportation!  The theme is derived from the Poster contest the year before.  The 2018 winning poster, depicted above, was drawn by Shivangi Ojha, an 8th Grader at Belton ISD in Temple, Texas. 

In Maine, there are about 3,000 school buses traveling about 30,000,000 miles per year and delivering about 140,000 students. While national ridership of school buses is about fifty percent, about eighty percent of Maine students ride the school bus. Local school transportation teams throughout Maine will educate the public about school bus safety and local transportation safety training during National School Bus Safety Week. 

Transportation is a great equalizer in education, providing students from all economic backgrounds with the opportunity to learn and succeed. Additionally, as pointed out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration U.S. Department of Transportation, “School buses are by far the safest way for children to get to and from school.” 

School buses are specifically designed and engineered for safety in order to protect occupants against crashes and incidents on the road. Nearly every part of a school bus has higher standards of safety when compared to ordinary cars. The following school bus safety features are not found on any other passenger vehicle: 

  • School bus seats are above the crash line so that the impact of a vehicle colliding with a school bus hits beneath the seated passengers
  • Passenger seating and crash protection are required for school bus seating systems 
  • A steel cage around the fuel tank that provides bus fuel system integrity 
  • Emergency exits are provided by way of doors, windows and roof hatches 
  • Bus body joint strength that specifies the minimum strength of the joints between panels of the bus body and the body structure 
  • Rollover protection that specifies the minimum structural strength of buses in rollover-type crashes 

More information about National School Bus Safety Week can be found here: https://www.napt.org/nsbsw 

For information about school transportation policy, contact Transportation and Facilities Administrator Pat Hinckley at pat.hinckley@maine.gov 

The National School Bus Safety Week public education program is sponsored by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), National School Transportation Association (NSTA), National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) and school bus manufacturers and suppliers. 

Maine Prepares to Respond to National Transportation Safety Board Safety Recommendation

Maine was one of 44 states that received a letter with safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) following the NTSB June 18, 2019 report, School Bus Run-Off-Road and Fire, Oakland, Iowa December 12, 2017.  The NTSB does not make regulations, but does issue recommendations to organizations. Recommendations regarding driver physicals, physical performance tests, and safety belts on large capacity buses were included in NTSB reports and recommendations.

The Department has engaged in collaboration and conversation with multiple state agencies to discuss possible responsive actions. Further outreach is planned with Maine Association for Pupil Transportation and Maine school administrative unit staff, including a webinar, which is planned for local school bus drivers, transportation directors, business managers, and superintendents on Friday, September 13, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.  An email invitation with webinar details will be sent to Maine superintendents and transportation directors.

The details of the NTSB report, accident investigation, and the resulting safety recommendations can be found here:  https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/accidentreports/pages/har1901.aspx .

We are committed to partnering with schools and other state agencies to continuously improve and ensure the safety and well-being of all Maine students. Media inquiries may be addressed to Kelli Deveaux by email at Kelli.Deveaux@maine.gov. Transportation inquires may be addressed to Pat Hinckley by email at Pat.Hinckley@maine.gov .

The State of Maine Announces the Second Round of Competitive Funding Under the VW Environmental Mitigation Settlement Funds

Some public and private schools may have school buses eligible for Maine’s Volkswagen (VW) settlement allocation.  The U.S. District Court in Northern California approved a partial consent decree to settle allegations that VW had installed defective devices on 2.0 and 3.0-liter diesel vehicles sold or leased in the United States.  Maine’s VW settlement allocation totals just over $21 million dollars.  Individuals and entities that have an interest in applying for Maine VW Environmental Mitigation Settlement funds are encouraged to submit a completed application.

Key Points

  • Round 2 application open date is September 16, 2019.
  • Round 2 application close date is November 15, 2019.
  • Results are expected around January 2, 2020.
  • Vehicles being replaced must be in operation and planned to be in operation.  Vehicles not in service will not be considered.
  • Eligible school buses include 2009 engine model year or older and class 4 school buses.
  • Decision criteria are included in the application.
  • Applicants for funding must use the fillable application form available at:  https://www1.maine.gov/mdot/vw/application/
  • Maine anticipates several application rounds for competitive Appendix D-2 qualifying actions.  Approximately $3 million is expected to be distributed to qualifying proponents during round 2; however, the State of Maine reserves the option to adjust the total distribution based on applications received.

Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) is the lead State agency for Maine’s VW settlement.  If you have any questions, please contact Maine Department of Transportation’s David Gardiner by email at David.Gardiner@maine.gov , or visit Maine’s VW settlement website: http://www.maine.gov/mdot/vw/  for more information.

Tips for Supporting Muslim Students During Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr

Maine is home to many Muslim families, and the Maine Department of Education would like to provide some general information about Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr to schools, so they can support their schools’ Muslim community members as they enjoy this very special time of year.

Ramadan is a month-long fast observed by Muslims around the world. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. To wish someone a happy Ramadan, you can say “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.”

This year, in the United States Ramadan will start around May 5th and end around June 4th. The official beginning and end of the month of Ramadan will not be announced until the sighting of the new moon. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan happens about 11 days earlier each year.

During Ramadan, most Muslims fast (i.e., consume no food or water) from dawn to dusk. Many Muslims also pray more frequently and make special efforts to be kind, generous, and compassionate. This is a joyous time of year, and each Iftar (post-sunset meal to break the fast) is a celebrated opportunity to gather with friends and family. Muslims may also wake before dawn to eat Suhoor (a pre-dawn meal), which helps give them energy to endure the day’s fast. (Iftar and Suhoor timings can be found here.) For some Muslims, the typical patterns of sleep are shifted so that more waking hours occur during the night, which can make it difficult to wake up early and stay alert during the day.

Typically, very young children do not fast or may fast only part of the day. Some Muslims may not fast when they are travelling, ill, pregnant, breastfeeding, or menstruating. In these cases, fasting days can be made up for at a later time. Elderly and chronically ill people who are not well enough to fast may give charitably instead.

After Ramadan, Eid-al-Fitr (the festival of breaking the fast) is a three-day celebration with feasts and gatherings of families. This is an extremely important and cheerful time of year for Muslims, and students will likely be absent for all or part of the three days. Children often receive a new outfit or a small amount of money as a gift from their family for the holiday. To wish someone a happy Eid, you can say, “Eid Saeed” or “Eid Mubarak.”

Here are a few tips for supporting students during Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr.

  1. Learn about Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr.

There are many resources available online that can help you understand how and why Ramadan is observed. Keep in mind that practices may vary depending on culture, so your students and their families are the best sources of information about their Ramadan traditions. Here are a couple of articles that give a general overview.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/religion/what-ramadan-six-things-know-about-muslim-holy-month-n586426

https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eid-al-Fitr

  1. Encourage cultural sensitivity for all school community members.

Fasting can have many physical and mental effects, such as fatigue, lack of concentration, and irritability. For your students, your understanding and support can help ensure that they continue to learn and make the most out of their time at school while fasting. Teachers, school nurses, sports coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and all other staff who interact with students will need to know how fasting can affect students.

Talking with staff and students about Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr helps encourage an atmosphere of cultural awareness and sensitivity for the whole school community. Sensitivity towards fasting students includes avoiding consuming food and beverages in front of them whenever possible. Consider holding any celebrations that include food, such as awards banquets, after Iftar (sunset).

  1. Ask students and their families how you can best support them.

Some schools may choose to offer a place for students to go during lunchtime, alternative options for physical education, or dedicated prayer spaces. Schools may also avoid scheduling assessments or other required activities during Eid-al-Fitr, when students are likely to be absent. The best way to ensure that your school is a supportive, culturally-aware learning environment is to involve students, families, and other community members in planning and policy creation. Check out these two articles for some practical ideas that may benefit fasting students.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/column-teachers-can-support-students-ramadan

http://www.isre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Schools-Guide-to-Ramadan-2.pdf

  1. Have a clear, well-communicated policy on tardies and absences.

Maine’s statute on excused absences is Title 20-A, Section §3272. It states that an absence is excused when it is for “observance of a recognized religious holiday when the observance is required during the regular school day and the absence has prior approval.” Fasting during Ramadan is a required religious observance, and the physical and mental demands of fasting may cause students’ tardies and absences to increase. Eid-al-Fitr celebrations are also religious observances. Districts will need to share clear expectations for attendance with students and families. It is highly recommended to develop these expectations in collaboration with your community members, recognizing that interpretation and translation may be necessary to ensure meaningful communication.