- File photo courtesy Douglas Zimmerman

File photo courtesy Douglas Zimmerman

Whether plans are on the horizon or buses are on the road, four school district transportation leaders detail their procedures for School Bus Fleet on issues such as routing, social distancing, enforcing mask wearing, and cleaning schedules.

Adam Johnson, the executive director of transportation for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, says that the district’s instruction is all-virtual until further notice. Meanwhile, the transportation department has partnered with the school nutrition division to support a meal delivery program. - Photo courtesy Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson, the executive director of transportation for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, says that the district’s instruction is all-virtual until further notice. Meanwhile, the transportation department has partnered with the school nutrition division to support a meal delivery program.

Photo courtesy Adam Johnson

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Charlotte, N.C.
Adam Johnson, Executive Director of Transportation

Fast Facts
Number of School Buses in Fleet: 1,422
Bus Types: Blue Bird, IC Bus, Thomas Built
Size of Service Area: 546 square miles
Number of Routes Serviced Daily: 1,088
Number of School Bus Drivers: 1,240 (includes subs, part-time, and lead Drivers)
Number of Other Transportation Staff: 324
Number of Students Transported Daily: approximately 92,000 (as of March 2020)

 

Tell us about your school district’s initial plans for the start of the school year.
The district was to return in a 1/3 model where students would attend schools in person on an A/B/C rotation. Nearly 50,000 students/families (out of about 150,000 total students) opted for a full-virtual option for the first semester. In August, the board decided that all students would be fully virtual until further notice.

Tell us about your plans for transportation when students return to in-person school.
Drivers are going to use most of their existing bus runs from the 2019-20 school year, and the routing department will note which stops are to be made on the weekly rotation (A/B/C).

How have you adjusted your routes?
We have de-assigned all of the full-virtual students for this semester. That has significantly reduced the number of buses we will operate when students return for in-person learning.

How will you handle social distancing on the bus?
Students will be assigned one per seat on all buses, except for siblings or students from the same household.

Will students be required to wear masks while on board, and, if so, how will that be enforced?
Yes. All students will be required to wear a mask while on the bus. Refusal to wear masks will be reported to the school administrators.

Do you plan to make any changes to how students board the bus?
All students must remain six feet apart while loading and wear masks.

Will there be temperature checks before students board? If so, what is your procedure if a student has a high temperature?
The district has decided that parents will be required to complete an attestation form for students to board the bus. Temperature checks will be completed at the school before entering the building.

What cleaning process will your buses undergo when students are riding again?
We will have cleaning teams assigned to each of our 14 transportation areas that will use electrostatic cleaners twice daily (after the a.m. and p.m. routes). Regularly assigned drivers will be responsible to clean their buses during pre- and post-trip inspections.

Tell us about your plans for a meal delivery service.
We have partnered with our school nutrition division and will support “CMS Eats at Home.” Our drivers will run out of hub schools and load up five days of breakfast and lunch packaged in a box for each student that has pre-ordered. Bus drivers will run multiple trips out of approximately 41 hub schools throughout the district.

How are you preparing drivers and other staff for all the changes this year?
We provided additional training on COVID-19 for all staff [in August] and are providing all PPE for staff. The district has implemented a daily online health screening for staff prior to reporting for work.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I am amazed each day how much my team cares about doing the right thing for our kids. While we have plenty of work to do to make improvements, having a talented, motivated, and caring team makes all the difference in the world.

-Thomas McMahon

Gary Thompson, Cherry Creek School District’s director of transportation, says that during the first week of in-person instruction in mid-August, using a phased approach to bring students in some grades back to school per day was helpful. - Photo courtesy Gary Thompson

Gary Thompson, Cherry Creek School District’s director of transportation, says that during the first week of in-person instruction in mid-August, using a phased approach to bring students in some grades back to school per day was helpful.

Photo courtesy Gary Thompson

Cherry Creek School District

Greenwood Village, Colo.
Gary Thompson, Director of Transportation

Tell us about your school district’s current reopening plan and how it incorporates transportation.

Fast Facts
Number of School Buses in Fleet: 320
Bus Types (Manufacturers): International and Thomas Built
Size of Service Area:108 square miles
Number of Routes Serviced Daily: 280
Number of School Bus Drivers: 250
Number of Other Transportation Staff: 200
Number of Students Transported Daily: This year 15,000, due to 10,000-plus students opting for online

We are conducting a hybrid model for high school and middle school students: Monday online, Tuesday and Wednesday Cohort A (last names beginning with A through K) and Cohort B (L-Z). Elementary school students attend every day.We began on Aug. 17 with a phase-in approach with only some grades attending.

How are you handling social distancing on the bus?
We planned to place two students per seat but most routes have low rider numbers and are running with one student per seat. We are cohorting students by grade, so on an elementary school bus, kindergartners sit up front, then first through fifth graders sit in the back. It is similar for middle school, and high school students will sit where they want. We are keeping the first row open to protect the driver. 

Are students required to wear masks while on board, and if so, how is that enforced?
Students must wear a mask on the bus the whole time. Bus drivers will report to the school if a student is not wearing one or taking it off while on the bus. Students will be given three strikes: the first two are warnings and on the third strike, the student will be moved to our online school program.

Will there be temperature checks before students board?
No, that will be done at the school.

Tell us about the cleaning process for your buses.  
The driver and/or bus assistant wipes high-touch areas after each run in the a.m. and p.m. Special-needs buses are sprayed with an electrostatic sprayer twice a week and conventional buses are sprayed once a week.

What has gone well so far? What about hurdles?
What has gone well was having a phase-in week [Aug. 17 – 21]. On Aug. 17, only fifth graders went to school for the day, the 18th was fourth graders, and sixth and ninth graders with last names beginning with A through K, etc. That allowed us to work off some rust and try to problem-solve before [the second week of school.] Capacity reduction has been tough in some high ridership schools. We have had to do two runs of the route at times. We have been doing daily counts to make sure we have our resources in the right place. Since over 10,000 K-12 students are doing online school, that has helped, but in some schools, [ridership] is close to last year.

[Starting the week of Aug. 24 – 28] and, we hope, for the remainder of the year, elementary students will have all grades every day and middle school and high school will have cohorts by alphabetical order. Time will tell. We have had to be flexible and able to adapt quickly, and our drivers have been awesome.

What advice would you give other school districts of a similar size on how to handle transportation for when they reopen for in-person instruction?
Make decisions based on science and what is going on in your community. I am lucky to have a superintendent who does this and is not caught up in the news or politics.

-Nicole Schlosser

Dickson County Schools Transportation Coordinator Melissa Garton is shown here with one of two new activity buses being used to transport high school students on sports trips since the first day of school on Aug. 3. - Photo courtesy Melissa Garton

Dickson County Schools Transportation Coordinator Melissa Garton is shown here with one of two new activity buses being used to transport high school students on sports trips since the first day of school on Aug. 3.

Photo courtesy Melissa Garton

Dickson County Schools

Dickson, Tenn.
Melissa Garton, Transportation Coordinator

Fast Facts
Number of School Buses in Fleet: 113
Bus Types (Manufacturers): Blue Bird, Thomas Built
Size of Service Area: 491 square miles
Number of Routes Serviced Daily: 85 regular routes, seven mid-day routes
Number of School Bus Drivers: Over 90
Number of Other Transportation Staff: 31 (21 bus assistants/monitors, six mechanics, three office staff, and one driver trainer)
Number of Students Transported Daily: 3,000 (Was over 6,000 last school year)

Tell us about your school district’s current reopening plan and how it incorporates transportation.
Our school system’s district leadership team, under our school director Dr. Danny Weeks’s direction started planning for the upcoming school year in March as soon as our district closed due to COVID-19. That included how our classrooms, schedules, distance learning, transportation, and technology would work. Our system has three reopening plans: in-school, remote, and hybrid. Fortunately, our early planning paid off and all schools opened on Aug. 3 for in-person learning.

How have you adjusted your routes?
I made several changes to our routes before school started to [be able to provide] more separation between students. I looked at numbers from the 2019-20 school year, and if they seemed high, I moved some from one route to another.I have moved a couple more routes around since Aug. 3 to better social distance the students.

How are you handling social distancing on the bus?
In the mornings, we load from back to front, distancing as much as possible and unload and load one bus at a time [at the schools.] Students sit in the same seat on the a.m. and p.m. routes. We also keep the windows down.

Are students required to wear masks while on board, and if so, how is that enforced?
Students, drivers, and assistants must wear masks while on the bus. Students without masks will be given reminder notes to give to their parents.

Tell us about the cleaning process for your buses.  
We clean the buses after each morning and afternoon run.

What has gone well so far? What about hurdles?
The drivers have been very cooperative and helpful in anything we had to do, from route changes to cleaning. I could not ask for a better group of people.  

What advice would you give other school districts on handling transportation when they begin in-person instruction?
Be flexible. Your ridership numbers will change daily. Keep a positive outlook for staff and students. Be ready to change at a moment’s notice. Keep your staff informed and be prepared for a lot of questions. Support and communication, I have found, is the key.

-Nicole Schlosser

Piqua Transportation Director Beth Cain displays a face shield that some of the district’s drivers will wear this school year. Others will don masks emblazoned with the district’s mascot. - Photo courtesy Beth Cain

Piqua Transportation Director Beth Cain displays a face shield that some of the district’s drivers will wear this school year. Others will don masks emblazoned with the district’s mascot.

Photo courtesy Beth Cain

Piqua City Schools

Piqua, Ohio
Beth Cain, Transportation Director

Fast Facts
Number of School Buses in Fleet: 29 yellow buses, 3 multipurpose vehicles (MPVs)
Bus Types (Manufacturers): Blue Bird and IC Bus
Size of Service Area: 51 square miles
Number of Routes Serviced Daily: 134
Number of School Bus Drivers: 22 yellow bus route drivers, 3 MPV drivers
Number of Other Transportation Staff: 7 (5 substitute bus drivers, 1 secretary, 1 transportation director)
Number of Students Transported Daily: 1,650 (2,100 last year)

 

Tell us about your school district’s current reopening plan and how it incorporates transportation.
Piqua City Schools will be offering two options for the 2020-21 school year. Option 1 is to attend in school while following guidelines on daily self-monitoring, hand washing and sanitizing, face coverings, etc. Option 2 is a free remote learning program.

For transportation, we will allow two students per seat, and in some instances three students if the children are younger and from the same family. We will attempt to seat children from the same household together when possible. Seating charts are required and will be available to assist with contact tracing if needed.

If state policies require districts to use alternative schedules, Piqua City Schools may need to adopt state minimum requirements for transportation to reduce the number of eligible students.

How have you adjusted your routes?
We kept the same number of routes as last year so we are transporting fewer kids on each bus. About 750 students (one-third of those who were transported last year) are taking virtual classes, and some parents opted to drive their kids to and from school.

How are you handling social distancing on the bus?
Two students per seat, with no one sitting in the row behind the driver.

Will students be required to wear masks while on board, and, if so, how will that be enforced?
Yes, all students must properly wear a face covering. The district discipline code will be followed.  Students that do not comply will lose bus-riding privileges.  

Have you made any changes to how students board the bus?
In the a.m. (pickup), we will load back to front, with siblings sitting together. In the p.m., students will be assigned front to back in the order they unload.

Will there be temperature checks before students board? If so, what is your procedure if a student has a high temperature?
Parents and students will self-check at home.

Tell us about the cleaning process for your buses.
We have purchased a misting system with hospital-grade solution that is good for 90 days, but we will mist the buses at the first of each month. We will also be cleaning high-touch areas after each route, such as handrails. Students will use hand sanitizer as they board the bus from a foam hand sanitizer system.

How are you preparing drivers and other transportation staff for all the changes this year?
We will be doing videos for our staff on cleaning, sanitizing, washing hands, etc. We will be following the Ohio Department of Health guidelines. All drivers and students are required to have a face covering, unless there is a medical reason not to. Some of our drivers will wear a clear plastic face shield, and some will wear a mask that a local company made for us that has our mascot, along with the name (Piqua Indians) and the words “In this together.”

-Thomas McMahon

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