Schools across the country have had to adjust their operations in order to accommodate millions of students returning to their classes this fall. While schools evaluated the safest way to reopen their doors, one of the most critical decisions was how to get kids to them.
Getting students to school during a pandemic is not an easy feat, but local school districts have created the plans in order to do so. Some of these plans include precautions as simple as disinfecting after every ride or as bold as assigned social distant seating and protective screens.
And although information released by the CDC has stated that children can be infected by the Coronavirus at a lower rate, it is still a real consequence and something to consider before deciding whether or not to send your child on the school bus.
Here’s a look at how some districts around our communities are making your children’s trip to school a safe one.
‘We expect fewer students with parent drop off and seniors and juniors driving’
Although schools in Newton and Sparta have already announced that they will be learning remotely for the month of September, other schools in New Jersey are still planning to expect students in the classroom for the beginning of the semester.
School districts like Vernon Township and Hamburg Public School have made all of their health and safety regulations public through their district websites, with the latter including a 77-page packet. Of those 77 pages, there is one detailing its transportation procedures: face coverings must be worn, maintained social distancing, and a deep clean before and after bus routes.
First on, last off
Similarly, Vernon Township’s website lists health and safety procedures - for both students and drivers. For students this includes: wearing a face mask throughout the duration of the ride and checking temperatures beforehand. Also, items will not be allowed to be taken out of their bags while riding (including cell phones).
Also included on Vernon’s website is a daily walk-through procedure for students:
“Students picked up first will proceed to the back of the bus and fill seats from back to front. Family members will be required to sit together. When the bus arrives at school, students are to remain seated. The bus driver will dismiss the students from the front of the bus first.”
On top of those procedures, all bus drivers are to complete a training program “designed to emphasize all federal, state and local requirements for COVID-19 infection control prior to the opening of school.”
Soft shields installed behind the bus driver
Bus drivers from West Milford School District will also complete training on health and safety procedures before the semester starts.
“Drivers will be receiving training in the areas of most use,” said Barbara Francisco, Business Administrator/Board Secretary of West Milford schools, “including the use of disinfecting sprayers, looking for signs of student illness, etc.”
Along with training, West Milford also plans to install soft shields behind the bus driver.
“Buses will be disinfected with an electrostatic sprayer, high touch surfaces will be wiped down between each route and students are required to wear masks,” Francisco added. “Windows and roof hatches will also remain open - weather permitting.”
When asked if there was an expected low or high number of students to ride the buses this semester, Francisco said, “We expect fewer students with parent drop off and seniors and juniors driving.”
In Delaware Valley school district’s website, there is a page entitled ‘COVID-19 Reopening Information’ which leads to the school’s reopening plans and a message from the superintendent. In its plans, there is a section called ‘Transportation of Students,’ that lists screening, social distancing, and cleaning procedures.
Regarding the section on screening, Delaware Valley requires all parents/guardians to perform a symptom screening each morning before the school day to determine if it is safe for them to ride the bus. Social distancing will be maintained by minimizing the amount of students on buses within reason, and 2 students are allowed to sit per seat.
Students have assigned seating, and buses will load filling seats from back to front to limit students walking past others to find a seat. Face coverings are required for both students and bus drivers at all time.
Additionally, students are required to sanitize hands before entering the bus and no food or drinks are permitted. Buses will be cleaned thoroughly after each route and aired out when not in use.
‘We are trying to accommodate everyone’s needs as much as possible’
Debbie Weissman, the director of transportation at Warwick Valley School District, has been busy the past few months to say the least: “We have parents changing their minds here and there about their children taking the bus, which is difficult when it comes to creating the bus routes.”
As Warwick Valley schools adopted a plan involving alternating schedules, students are to be divided in two groups. This means each bus driver will have two bus routes rather than one.
“It’s difficult,” Weissman added, “but we are trying to accommodate everyone’s needs as much as possible.”
As this will create half as many students on the bus every day, buses are routed with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing measures. Drivers supplied with masks and disinfectants, and masks are required to be worn by students at all time.
Warwick will be following the health and safety regulations that the CDC required, which includes cleaning and disinfecting all buses at least once a day. Drivers will disinfect after each ride and then custodial staff cleans each bus at the end of the day.
“Throw in a holiday right before school starts,” Weissman joked. “It’s definitely been busy but we’re hopeful.”
Open windows and roof hatches - weather permitting
Monroe Woodbury School District has also listed its transportation procedures on the district website.
“Transportation staff (drivers, monitors, attendants, mechanics and cleaners) will be trained and provided periodic refreshers on the proper use of personal protective equipment and the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.”
Additionally, “once on the bus, drivers and attendants will open bus windows and roof hatches when weather permits and the temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing for flow of air throughout the bus.”
A bus driver from Monroe Woodbury, who wished to remain anonymous, admitted to not knowing much about the bus safety training so far, other than what’s already been released to the public through the district’s website. Training for Monroe-Woodbury bus drivers began this week.
After reaching out to other bus drivers from neighboring school districts, the general consensus was the same, and most did not feel comfortable to speak on the subject due to their current job unease caused by the pandemic.
It’s been a tough few months for everyone. While schools navigate this new normal of procedure and protocol it is important to adhere and maintain them on and off the bus to make this school year safe for your kids, teachers and bus drivers.