Although the number of school districts opting to begin the new school year with online learning only continues to rise as COVID-19 numbers increase nationwide, pupil transporters ponder issues including driver health concerns, student mask monitoring, and extra costs.
As School Bus Fleet previously reported, two California school districts which also happen to be among the largest in the U.S. — Los Angeles Unified School District (USD) and San Diego Unified School District (USD) — announced on July 13 that they would begin the new school year online only.
Days later, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that most school districts in the state would start the new school year with online learning and no in-person instruction. (Schools located in counties that are on a COVID-19 monitoring list cannot open for in-person instruction until their county has been off the list for 14 consecutive days, according to a news release from Newsom’s office. Schools in counties that have not been on the list for the prior 14 days will be allowed to begin in-person instruction while following public health guidelines.)
Since then, large districts in Georgia, Texas, Virginia, and Maryland, have joined them.
Atlanta Public Schools plans to open the 2020-21 school year with “a full virtual learning model,” according to a news release from the district on Aug., 24, and Cobb County (Ga.) School District will do the same on Aug. 17.
Dallas Independent School District (ISD) and Houston Independent School District (ISD) plan to begin their school years with virtual learning, though Dallas ISD may add in-person instruction after Sept. 8, according to the districts’ websites.
Meanwhile, two districts in Virginia — Fairfax County Public Schools and Loudoun County Public Schools — and Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools reversed plans to kick off the 2020-21 school year with a combination of remote and in-person learning and announced a switch to online only, The Washington Post reports.
Despite changing plans brought about by the resurgence of COVID-19 in many areas of the U.S., pupil transporters still grapple with issues that loom when students will eventually need transportation to school, such as driver health concerns, student mask monitoring, extensive new cleaning procedures, and extra costs.
A school bus driver and a union representative in Texas told NBC Dallas Fort Worth that many drivers are older and have underlying health issues which may prevent them from feeling safe returning to work.
Making sure students wear masks is another concern for bus drivers. Mark Raposo of the New Hampshire School Transportation Association told state lawmakers on Tuesday, according to New Hampshire Public Radio, that drivers are unable to devote the time to enforce students wear masks aboard the bus, and that more staff members may be needed monitor students and help with bus sanitation.
A ramp-up in cleaning and disinfecting procedures is being considered a significant undertaking for drivers, Renate Wiley, Milford (Del.) School District’s school board president, told Delaware State News. (An announcement will be made in August on whether schools in the state will fully reopen, offer virtual learning only, or provide a combination, according to the news source.)
Jon LoBiondo, the transportation specialist for the district, told Delaware State News that, regarding pupil transportation, there is no difference between the in-person and combination plans, because difference between fully in-person or hybrid when it comes to transportation. He added that the district “would have to double the amount of routes, if we were to open up fully, based on the current guidelines, which would double the cost of transportation,” and that supplying personal protective equipment would add to that extra cost.