Transportation directors around the country have been clambering to figure out how to effectively follow health restrictions like social distancing and proper sanitizing as the school year gets underway, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
There are other challenges to consider.
Many school bus drivers are retirees, a higher-risk category for the virus, and school systems with alternating schedules must devise multiple bus schedules catering to different groups of students with varying bus routes.
If a large percentage of the well-trained bus drivers become infected, the result could be an “unsustainable cycle” of hiring staff and placing them on hold, WSJ reported.
In addition, school start dates this year have been uncertain, making it hard to keep hourly wage drivers.
While a group of national school transportation trade groups met over the summer to discuss how to best run a school bus program in the age of coronavirus, each case presented was unique.
There are some 13,000 school districts nationwide, and regulations are divided by financial constraints, school board decisions, and local and state rules.
Instead of one overarching template, the Student Transportation Aligned for Return To School (STARTS) task force implemented a 225-item list of best practices. The points were drawn up based on a review of 50 pandemic response plans to travel agencies like New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The checklist includes mask-wearing, boarding the school bus from back to front, and a questioning process to ensure all riders’ safety.
Some school districts have decided to not offer a bus service to students who live within 1.5 miles of their school — a potential problem for the marginalized and disabled members of their community.
Others have adapted, adding sanitizing stations at the front of the bus, plastic face shields for drivers, temperature checks and deep cleaning at the end of each shift.
Face masks have been the hardest aspect to enforce, The Journal noted.
The school bus system will likely be a deciding factor in whether schools can remain open. Most schools don’t yet know whether their plans will work.
The American School Bus Council reports that more than 25 million students typically ride 480,000 school buses on every school day.