Most students are now back in class — either online or in person. What does each mean for school bus transportation?
Many school districts nationwide are offering both in-classroom and online education under hybrid models, with about 65 percent of students in schools and the rest learning at home. For those students attending school once again in person, riding a school bus during the COVID-19 era means wearing a mask and sitting no more than two to a seat, often one to a seat, the latter recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Administrators care about safety but realize it can be impossible to keep students six feet apart or more on a bus. Because many parents will drive their children to school, there are fewer students on buses.
But in locations where routes are running, it means using hand sanitizer and being aware the virus can strike anyone at any time. Bus drivers are now tasked with wiping down all interior surfaces to reduce the possibility of virus transmission, before and after runs. In some areas, it means using disinfecting sprayers and misters.
Efforts will be made to ensure student safety on buses, but social distancing may be impossible to guarantee. Many parents are expected to take their children to school and so there will be fewer students on buses. Students will be required to wear masks on buses, but in some districts they will be expected to bring their own. Some masks will be available to those who need them. Hand sanitizer will also be encouraged.
“We can’t provide PPE for every student, it would cost us millions of dollars and there wouldn’t be enough supply,” said David Uecker, director of transportation for Hutto School District in Texas. “We will have 51 students per bus or no more than two people in each bus seat. We can’t really do social distancing on buses.”
There will be a strong emphasis on cleaning the interiors of the buses. Buses will be disinfected between elementary school and secondary school runs. There will be a deep cleaning each night after the last run. All surfaces on the buses will carefully be cleaned and sprayed, Uecker relayed.
“All students must wear masks on buses and wherever possible we have two students to a seat,” said Ryan Dillingham, the director of transportation at Knox County School District in Tennessee. “Because many parents don’t want their children on buses and [instead] take their children to school, we have some buses with as few as five children. We do not allow more than two people in a seat. We clean the buses twice a day and we keep the windows open. We have plenty of hand sanitizer on each bus for the riders.”
Dillingham said this year has been a challenge. “We have never done this before and we are striving to be flexible. We have dedicated professionals making it work,” he added.