Like many families around the nation, schools are hoping to have their students return to on-campus learning in the Fall. Of course, this will not happen without taking careful precautions for the spread of COVID-19 and strict adherence to the guidelines published by health officials. Schools and districts are working to develop plans that will best maintain a safe learning environment for students to return.
Common adaptations included in these plans are:
- Requiring the use of masks and distancing between individuals on campus
- Conducting temperature checks on individuals entering campus
- Encouraging good hand hygiene
- Performing extensive campus cleaning
- Fully educating families and staff on health and safety protocols
The Dilemma with School Buses
Another one of the challenges to successfully returning to on-campus learning is establishing low risk and reliable student transportation options. Schools and districts are finding it increasingly difficult to continue their traditional bus routes during these unprecedented times. They are continuing to explore other options that better meet the needs of students’ families.
School buses, according to guidelines published by various state governments and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, will likely not be able to operate at full capacity, require extensive and frequent sanitation, and adhere to strict seating charts and student monitoring to allow for the most effective contact tracing. This reduces the efficiency of school buses and adds to the responsibility of drivers.
It is also uncertain how flexible these school buses and their routes will be if the state of the virus or government regulation change. The factors surrounding school buses are such a complex discussion that the Student Transportation Aligned for Return To School (STARTS) Task Force recently released a 70-page report to help school districts assess how they might try to recreate their bus transportation systems.
Bus Driver Concerns
Paige Cerulli, in her blog post for Sustainable America, recognizes that “According to a report from the National Center for Safe Routes to School, bus ridership decreased from 2007 to 2014, while car ridership increased.” This corresponds to the decreasing number of school bus drivers operating in the country, even before COVID-19.
Now, with the onset of the pandemic, remaining school bus drivers are reporting nervousness about returning to the job. This is especially because many fall within the older age group. First of all, their duties require they come in contact with several different individuals. Since these individuals also sit in a confined space, drivers have a greater risk of being exposed to the virus. Second, drivers are concerned about responsibly maintaining the safe riding conditions for young students. Students with disabilities, for example, may typically require more monitoring in order to follow health guidelines. Furthermore, it has been called to question if families will unknowingly send symptomatic children on the bus and if drivers should be responsible for conducting temperature checks for all their passengers.
What are the Alternatives?
Cerulli goes on to highlight Go Together’s CarpooltoSchool as a helpful solution. They describe the program as a more sustainable and financially feasible way to get children to school. In the age of the coronavirus, organized school carpooling allows for smaller vehicle density, avoids complicated bus routing and seating arrangements for schools, and provides parents more control over the safety of their children. Students’ families can develop open and trusting relationships between one another to mitigate the risk of exposure to the virus and maintain flexibility should conditions change.
As we approach the awkward circumstances of the 2020 school year, schools and parents are tirelessly searching for the safest ways to give students an enriching education. While we work to bring students back to campus, it is important to consider how they will get there.
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