UPDATE: This story has been updated to include news that two of the largest school districts in the U.S. — Los Angeles Unified School District (USD) and San Diego Unified School District (USD) — announced on Monday that they will start their school years online only.
School districts and school bus companies across the U.S. are doing their best to plan to safely transport students during the COVID-19 pandemic as the dates for their schools to resume in-person learning remain uncertain.
In Wisconsin, the state Department of Public Instruction released guidelines for safe student transportation, which include drivers and students wearing cloth face coverings, assigning seats on the bus in compliance with physical distancing guidelines, and cleaning and disinfecting every bus after each run.
Additionally, the Wisconsin School Bus Drivers Association has provided more ideas to enhance safety. Recommendations include considering installing hand sanitizer stations on each bus and in employee break rooms and limiting drivers to one bus and route to reduce potential exposure to the virus.
Chad Wiese, director of building services for the Madison Metropolitan School District, told Wisconsin Public Radio that his district is planning on running bus routes at a significantly lower capacity than last year or run the same bus route twice, with half the usual number of students each time. He also told the news source that he is anticipating a higher bill for more routine and thorough cleanings and potentially more miles.
Keith Rogers, a manager for Go Riteway Transportation Group, told Wisconsin Public Radio that the company has started putting policies in place to deal with the pandemic as they wait to hear from schools on their reopening plans. Buying fogging machines to disinfect the buses, considering placing protective barriers between the driver and students, and continuing to recruit for new drivers despite the current uncertainty over how many students will need transportation are some of the measures Go Riteway is taking, he added.
In fact, schools nationwide are unsure as to how many parents will feel comfortable allowing their children to return to school for in-person education and have them ride the school bus.
In Florida, St. Lucie Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent told CBS 12 that his district is expecting 20% of its students to start the year remotely and suggested that parents drop their children off at school if possible due to the challenge of social distancing on a school bus. He also told the news source that bus drivers and students will wear masks, students will sit in every other row of seats, and bus windows will be rolled down whenever possible.
In Minnesota, Northfield News reports, school leaders have been planning for a return to in-person learning, a return to remote learning, or some hybrid of the two formats. Like most other states, Minnesota’s state department of education has released reopening guidance and is planning to select a specific course of action by the end of July, according to the news source.
Shelly Jonas, executive director of the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association, told Northfield News that the new driver procedure for the school bus company she leads will include temperature checks, wearing masks and gloves, and being advised to keep the seat immediately behind them empty.
Lisa Beck, executive director of transportation for Minneapolis Public Schools, told the news source that her district will tighten up bus route record-keeping for contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 case.
School bus drivers from Connecticut, Illinois, and California, told CNN that they are ready to return to work and miss their students but have concerns about the ability of students to social distance on the bus and their health. The drivers also told the news source that they would like to see measures such as Plexiglas barriers, and a monitor on board to make sure students wear their masks.
Meanwhile, two California school districts — Los Angeles Unified School District (USD) and San Diego Unified School District (USD) — will begin their school year online only due to a rise in COVID-19 infection rates.
The districts stated in a joint news release that instruction will resume on Aug.18 at Los Angeles USD and Aug. 31 at San Diego USD, as previously scheduled, and that the districts will “continue planning for a return to in-person learning during the 2020-21 academic year, as soon as public health conditions allow.”
“This announcement represents a significant disappointment for the many thousands of teachers, administrators and support staff, who were looking forward to welcoming students back in August,” the districts stated in the news release. “It is obviously an even greater disappointment to the many parents who are anxious for their students to resume their education. Most of all, this decision will impact our students in ways that researchers will take years to understand.”
The districts plan to continue delivering meals and computers to families, according to the news release.