As School Reopening Looms, Best-Laid Plans Face Uncertainty

File photo  courtesy JD Hardin

As schools across the U.S. determine when to reopen and what safety practices to put into place, many states and major cities are reporting another increase in COVID-19 cases. Additionally, we are seeing a patchwork of plans of action. It can be confusing. It is definitely daunting.

About half of all states recently released guidelines on reopening schools, ranging from the most populous such as California to smaller ones like Vermont and Maine. (Pennsylvania has released preliminary guidance and Texas has delayed issuing advice as its COVID-19 cases recently drastically increased.)

The plans include hybrid in-person/online learning schedules for smaller onsite class sizes, temperature checks for staff members and for students before they board a bus, providing hand sanitizer, a requirement for students and staff to wear masks, routine cleaning and disinfection of facilities and buses, avoiding shared supplies, and discouragement of large gatherings such as assemblies and field trips.

Many specifically recommend following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) guidelines. In Illinois, no more than 50 students will be allowed aboard a bus, and all passengers will be required to wear face masks. Vermont and California guidelines state that students need a “health check” before they will be allowed to board the bus. Oklahoma’s guidance recommends that districts consider opening school bus windows to increase the flow of fresh air.

A handful of transportation directors have shared with us their safety plans for the bus when schools reopen. Among many other measures, Alfred Karam, the director of transportation for Shenendehowa Central School District in New York, told School Bus Fleet he will use fog machines twice daily to sanitize his buses. Jim Beekman, general manager of transportation for Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools, is training drivers on using disinfecting products and new check in and check-out procedures to reduce social contact. Besides masks and gloves for drivers, all sources said they would provide face shields to attendants who work with special-needs students who spit or cough. In addition, Tim Ammon, co-owner of the consulting firm Decision Support Group, points to tools such as student tracking technology and cameras for contact tracing.

Teamwork is going to be crucial as transportation departments recreate routes in response to state and CDC recommendations for social distancing on the school bus. Our story on enhanced route planning aims to help our readers create flexible plans in the wake of precautions that need to be taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how certain features in various routing software offerings from multiple companies can help with communicating these plans, hopefully simplifying communication with administrators and parents.

Another important aspect to keep in mind is risk mitigation. Transportation law expert Matthew Daus discusses recommendations and requirements from various federal agencies and providing safe student transportation while minimizing liability exposure in an article and a webinar.

We can – and should — prepare for as many scenarios as possible, but this pandemic has challenged us with constant uncertainty, especially recently, as COVID-19 cases in several states have risen significantly, causing a pullback on the reopening of recreational venues like restaurants and bars. Schools, however, fulfill an essential need, and access to education cannot be put aside. Still, it is hard to know the best course of action to take when things keep changing.

Meanwhile, I like to think that our annual photo contest can offer some small escape from dealing with the stress these circumstances have placed on our work and personal lives. This year seem to reflect – literally in a couple cases – a nostalgia for scenes of nature that often serve as the backdrop during the day-to-day of transporting students.

As we continue to navigate this constantly fluctuating situation, it is helpful to know that there are factors we can control with valuable information, and we hope to continue to provide our readers with just that.

About the author
Nicole Schlosser

Nicole Schlosser

Former Executive Editor

Nicole was an editor and writer for School Bus Fleet. She previously worked as an editor and writer for Metro Magazine, School Bus Fleet's sister publication.

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