TEXAS ADVISES SCHOOL DISTRICTS THAT BARRIERS ARE PROHIBITED ON SCHOOL BUSES

BUS DRIVER

The Texas Department of Public Safety is reminding all state school districts that installing shields or barriers that separate the bus driver from the students, and students from each other, are prohibited.

The statement issued on May 29 discusses the various solutions school districts and transportation departments have recently been considering to keep both staff and students safe against the spread of exposure of COVID-19, as they are transporting students again to and from school post the pandemic. Summer school started on June 1, and districts can choose to transport students via the yellow school bus.  The new ideas include installing a plexiglass driver shield or enclosure that would separate the driver from the students.

The statement noted that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) prohibit the installation of any such barrier or shield on school buses. Texas DPS reminded districts that the Texas School Bus Specifications state that all public and private school buses in Texas that are used to transport children to and from school and school-related events “shall meet all applicable FMVSS.”

David Uecker, director of transportation for Hutto Independent School District, located north of Austin, said at one time the district did look at the possibility of erecting a barrier. But it quickly nixed the idea.

 “We are not going to alter the bus. If we do anything, we are going to alter the driver’s equipment, possibly [providing] a face shield for the driver,” Uecker explained. “Rather than shielding the bus, we would shield the driver with something that is clear, transparent, and that does not affect their vision at all.”   ”However, he added that curved face shields could produce glare that could distract or even blind the driver. “It’s not a perfect world,” he added.

BLUE BIRD OFFERS SCHOOL BUS DISINFECTION GUIDE

School bus manufacturer Blue Bird is offering a free, downloadable guide with best practices for disinfecting school buses.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that routine cleaning and disinfection procedures (e.g. using cleaners and water to pre-clean surfaces prior to applying an EPA-registered disinfectant to frequently touched surfaces as indicated on the product’s label) are appropriate to minimize the spread and cross-contamination of common bacterial and viral pathogens, Blue Bird noted in a news release.

Blue Bird created this one-page downloadable guide to help school bus owners properly disinfect their buses. Tips include using gloves, eye protection, and other necessary personal protective equipment to prevent direct contact with chemicals; and ensuring proper ventilation in the area when cleaning with chemicals per the guidelines on the label or insert of the chemicals being used.

PUPIL TRANSPORTERS PAY TRIBUTE TO 2020 GRADUATES

Pupil transporters nationwide are letting the high school seniors they transport know that they are proud of them with a timely tribute: organizing school buses in their fleets to form “2020,” for their graduation year.

Christopher Taft, a First Student location manager in Dover, N.H., told School Bus Fleet that 48 of his bus drivers, as well as driver trainers and office personnel, arranged 22 buses to read as the year from above to honor all of the seniors attending three local school districts and surrounding towns on May 8.  The employees also made a banner to recognize all the routes and first names of the drivers for all 36 bus routes, as well as signs to celebrate the seniors, he added. The drivers stood six feet apart inside the zeroes of the 2020 bus formation, along with Taft.

The parking lot of a college campus was able to accommodate the nearly two dozen buses. The First Student location hired a photographer, Memories Studio, which used a drone to take aerial photos, according to Fosters.com.

 Meanwhile, in Washington state, the East Valley School District 361 transportation department in Spokane Valley similarly recognized its seniors, adjusting to the change in plans brought about by the pandemic on Monday. Ten bus drivers positioned the 22 buses to read “2020” from the air.  Lorri Smith, the district’s transportation director, told SBF that, given the smaller size of the district (it transports about 2,800 students daily), many of its drivers take the same students to and from school starting from preschool and ending with graduation, and get to know them well over the years.

 “They hold a special place in their hearts for our kids,” she added. “This was a small token from the transportation department to honor our seniors.”

CDC RECOMMENDS ONE STUDENT PER SCHOOL BUS SEAT, SKIPPING ROWS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new set of recommendations that details a plan for reopening America, including regulations that school transportation departments should adhere to. 

On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, restaurants have closed for dining, malls have shut down and sports have ceased, among many other initiatives to slow the spread. These initiatives also included closing school buildings and many students were suddenly expected to learn online, or in a distance learning model.

Since then, transportation departments got creative and continued running their operations as meal and school supply delivery to students in need. School buses that are equipped with Wi-Fi routers were parked in areas with limited broadband internet access, or in locations where families couldn’t afford service that is compatible with school district eLearning programs.

Over two months later, America is starting to see some reprieve from states “Safer at Home” orders. However, many transportation directors confessed confusion as to what reopening would look like, adding that bouncing back from the pandemic is going to be harder than shutting down.

In a recent School Transportation News survey, many respondents said they were awaiting CDC or state guidelines to be announced before they start planning for the next school year, which could consist of health screening students prior to boarding the school bus, limited capacity routes, and multiple runs throughout the day.  This week’s guidance detailed concerns and documented how social distancing might take effect in school districts and school buses.

For schools, measures include keeping students and teachers together as much as possible. It also advises canceling all inter-group events such as field trips and extracurricular activities, spacing seating and desks to six feet apart, and turning desks to all face the same direction.

The CDC said all cafeterias, dining halls and playgrounds should be closed. Instead, it advocates for serving meals in classrooms to promote social distancing. It also stated that hallways should be one-way directional walking paths, so students aren’t passing one another.

Arrival and drop-off locations and/or times should also be staggered and adjusted, or protocols should be in place to adhere to social distancing with parents or care givers are dropping off students.

Social distancing should also be considered on the school bus, and the CDC recommended seating one child per seat, every other row.   When discussing what it would look like, many transportation directors shared that they would have to reduce their capacity by at least 50 percent.

WHAT HAPPENS TO SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION WHEN THE COVID-19 DUST SETTLES?

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The million-dollar question remains: What does the school experience look like after the coronavirus pandemic, and what will it mean for student transportation?

Many administrators across the nation have shared they are looking at a hybrid model of both online and in-person learning, where groups of students would be divided in half, with five days of in-person learning stretched across a two-week span.

Whether that will be all in-person learning, a full online learning module, or a hybrid model remains to be seen. However, online learning could help teachers catch up with the kids who have been traditionally left behind because they didn’t have access to that one-on-one environment.

Nicole Schlosser, the executive editor of School Bus Fleet magazine, said if the new normal becomes an online distance learning model for some of the students, at least partially, it could help alleviate or even be a solution to the ongoing school bus driver shortage. But many drivers are also in the at-risk category based on their ages or medical conditions, they might not want to continue being a school bus driver, which could inherently make the shortage situation worse. However, online learning could essentially help fill that gap, she noted.

SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE DURING COVID-19

Compiled with the help of industry experts and authorities, the following practical tips are meant to be considered in addition to following directions provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and federal and state officials. These tips were crafted keeping in mind real-life situations that many drivers cannot avoid or control.

Here are the tips that are applicable to school bus drivers:

  1. Stay in your vehicles as supplies are loaded and unloaded and when possible. Keep your windows up when interacting with another person.
  2. Do not touch fuel pumps with your bare hands – they are often the dirtiest areas of a gas station.
  3. Decrease the number of times you touch “shared” objects with your bare hands such as credit cards, pens, cups, clipboards, handles, ATM pads, etc.
  4. Use a face covering (a mask, scarf, or bandana) and gloves when interacting with people, along with social distancing. Disinfect these objects as much as possible.
  5. When you can, go digital or electronic. Avoid receipts, forms, or other physical objects that are passed around without protection.
  6. Handwashing with soap is more effective at removing certain kinds of germs, but if you need to make your own hand sanitizer, make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol.

WEBINAR OFFERS TIPS FOR PREPARING TO RESUME SERVICE POST-COVID

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacting pupil transportation, mainly due to school closures, many school district transportation departments have shifted to putting some buses into service to deliver meals, instructional materials, and Wi-Fi to students, trying to employ as many drivers and other staff members as possible.

Still, while working with a skeleton crew on other things, how can they plan for the upcoming school year, which is an activity many transportation departments would typically be engaging in at this time of year? And what will the beginning of the new school year look like? What potential changes should be planned for?

On Wednesday, School Bus Fleet hosted a webinar, “Returning to Service Post-COVID: Are You Prepared?” A panel of industry experts discussed ways to optimize time during school closures to get ahead on back-burner responsibilities that will still demand attention once schools reopen. Tasks addressed included getting routing, inspections, IEP requests, and testing up to date; scheduling tests during DMV closures, and forming plans for remote work in case it is still required this fall.

Panelists also provided insights on how to deal with protecting drivers, cleaning buses, factoring social distancing into routing plans, how driver shortage may be impacted by school closures, and the possibility of taking students’ temperatures as they enter the school bus.

The webinar was sponsored by connectivity solution supplier Kajeet, school bus market supplier Safe Fleet, and school bus routing software supplier Transfinder.

To listen to the webinar on demand, go here.

MICHIGAN DISTRICT SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS TRAIN TO HELP STUDENTS WITH ONLINE LEARNING

Bus drivers in Schoolcraft, Minn, are going the extra mile by learning how to use technology that will help them assist students with their schoolwork and social-emotional needs arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Schoolcraft Community Schools transportation department has trained eight school bus drivers on the video conferencing platform Zoom and online learning web service Google Classroom.  The drivers will act as coaches for the district’s most vulnerable students, but they won’t only be helping them with homework. The week-long training also covered the best ways to communicate with students about their social-emotional needs, said Dr. Rusty Stitt, the district’s superintendent.

“We were tasked by our governor to come up with a plan to reinvent education from afar. What better way to aid this new way of teaching and learning than by putting additional supports in [place] to help our staff, and most importantly, our students?” Stitt said.

The district’s administrative team came up with the coaching idea based on feedback from support staff, he added.

Marc Fox, the district’s transportation director, told SBF that he is proud of how the transportation department’s drivers jumped in to help in any way they could during the pandemic, which changed lives so quickly.

REASONS DIESEL IS MILES AHEAD OF GASOLINE

The problems previously associated with old diesel are old news. Today’s clean diesel is different, offering benefits that are miles ahead of gasoline.  Districts running a clean diesel fleet are reaping the benefits of cost savings, easy maintenance, and eco-friendliness.

The facts are clear: diesel is the fuel of choice for today’s fleets. Here are some reasons to stay the course with diesel.

Diesel saves money.  Gasoline school buses may have a lower sticker price, but that’s only part of the cost story.  The greatest cost of a fleet’s total operating budget isn’t the initial investment in the bus. It’s the cost of the fuel needed to run that fleet, year in and year out. Fuel costs equate to more than two-thirds of the typical fleet’s annual operating expenses.  Diesel is the most fuel-efficient engine on the market, providing nearly 90 percent better fuel economy and a longer operating range than other similar-size gasoline or propane engines.

Diesel also has stronger resale value and proven durability, providing long-term savings. In addition to best-in-class fuel economy, the new Detroit DD5 offers a B10 life of 400,000 miles, all but eliminating the need to replace the engine.

Diesel is green.  Today’s clean diesel is cleaner than ever.  Diesel emissions at the tailpipe are more than 90 percent cleaner than they were in 2006 and are comparable to—or even cleaner than—other fuel types based on EPA-regulated emissions standards.  Diesel also offers the lowest carbon footprint over the operational lifetime of the bus in terms of carbon dioxide.

New diesel lets you say goodbye to aftertreatment issues.  In the past, diesel aftertreatment systems were a pain point for technicians.  Thanks to innovative variable cam-phasing technology available through Detroit, as well as the Stay Warm feature available through Cummins, new clean-diesel aftertreatment systems allow additional heat to enter the exhaust stream, enabling efficient operation of the aftertreatment system in low speed and stop-and-go operations.

Bottom line: diesel goes the distance.

MANUFACTURING PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

School bus parts supplier Heavy Duty Bus Parts Inc. (HDBP) has completed its first of many planned prototype personal protective equipment (PPE) samples to help medical professionals combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The supplier’s surgical masks (made of waterproof, non-woven, breathable fabric) are ready for production. Meanwhile, its N95 face masks, which block 95% of all particulate matter, are nearly ready to be sent for National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health certification, according to a news release from the supplier. HDBP is also looking to expand into surgical gowns and headwear if there is a demand for it.

“While watching the news a few weeks back, I kept hearing about PPE equipment and a possible shortage,” said Branden Smeltzer, HDBP’s general manager. “I also knew that about 85% of our customers were shutting down due to stay-at-home orders or a decision made by the superintendent of schools in their respective areas.”

Since HDBP has the necessary machinery to make the equipment, Smeltzer immediately began researching face mask standards, contacting elected officials, and evaluating startup costs. That led to purchasing equipment and raw materials, and to ultimately completing the company’s first prototype out of some school bus-specific textiles that were available in HDBP’s warehouse.

“With the uncertainty of what the future of our business is, we are still committed to doing our part to support those who are in need the most,” said Kristen Billingsley, HDBP’s president. “We are in an industry that bleeds yellow and everyone is committed to the ultimate goal of saving children’s lives. HDBP will always bleed that yellow, but right now, the country needs to bleed red and white for those medical professionals putting their lives on the line every single day, and we need to do that in a responsible manner — not in a way to cheat the system or to get rich.”