As some school districts have started reopening for in-person instruction over the last couple weeks, two school bus companies report that rides have gone smoothly and safely, with some additional practices incorporated.
In Iowa, Durham School Services began transporting some students for the new school year on Aug. 24, Sam Barrett, the general manager for the school bus company’s Waterloo location, told School Bus Fleet.
Waterloo Community School District started offering in-person instruction last week, gradually welcoming students in different grades back to school throughout the week to slowly re-introduce them into the buildings.
Durham will transport approximately 4,000 students for Waterloo this year, which is down by about 2,000 from the typical 6,000 the school bus company usually takes to and from the district’s schools. As a result, Barrett said, Durham has cut its 74 routes for Waterloo down to 60.
The biggest challenge with providing transportation during school start this year, he added, is identifying students that will not be riding the bus during the pandemic and adjusting routes accordingly.
“Constant monitoring of the routes has been required due to students’ parents keeping them off the bus,” Barrett explained. “Our routes are changing almost every day so far.”
He added that the drivers “have done a great job being flexible with routes and student management.”
Part of the new student management responsibilities are making sure kids are wearing masks while on the bus (drivers and monitors are required to as well). Drivers are also disinfecting their buses after every route and are making sure students social distance on the buses as much as possible.
“We must remain safety-conscious and in tune with our district to make sure we are transporting their children safely,” Barrett said. “We must also monitor and refine our routes daily and weekly to stay current with our district’s needs.”
Meanwhile, Texas Central School Bus started taking some students to and from school on Aug. 26, operating approximately 200 routes with 260 buses for Keller (Texas) Independent School District.
Texas Central currently has transportation scheduled for about 23,500 students (40% of Keller ISD’s students have opted for virtual learning so far, and many parents are still choosing to take their children to school, but the bus company has started seeing ridership gradually increase).
The school bus company implemented protocols similar to Durham School Services, including requiring drivers, monitors, and students to wear masks (drivers keep some on hand for students who forget them) and drivers cleaning high-touch areas between routes, Jim Koons, Texas district manager for Texas Central School Bus, told SBF.
Additionally, the bus company is sanitizing buses at the end of the day, allowing them to dry overnight, keeping windows and roof hatches open to allow air to circulate, and loading students from the rear to the front of the bus.
Besides mandatory mask wearing and continual cleaning, Texas Central School Bus also instilled some requirements at its office, including barriers to enhance social distancing and discouraging groups; temperature checks for all employees upon entry; and closing or limiting use of employee breakrooms.
Koons said that despite the circumstances, school start up for Keller ISD has gone very well, and credits employees for adapting so well to the new procedures.
“We have been asking a lot from them and they have stepped up and made a huge difference in our success,” he added.
The biggest hurdle has been managing the flow of staff in and out of the company building.
“Plans look great on paper, but then you have to be able to be flexible and change plans quickly to ensure the safety of your employees,” Koons said. “In today's world, you really need to test the plans and increase your ability to react to ever-changing dynamics.”
One important key to their school start success, he added, was that Keller ISD included Texas Central staff in every meeting and planning phase since reopening preparations began back in early June.
“It certainly has proven that we can accomplish great things when we work together as one team with open communications between departments,” Koons said.