School buses to roll out Aug. 3; masks encouraged

Saturday, July 25, 2020
School buses are set to roll out Aug. 3, wearing masks will be optional, but school officials say highly encouraged. While they look social distanced in this picture, students and staff last year had never heard of COVID-19.
T-G File Photo by Dawn Hankins

Just so children and parents know, bus drivers may look a little different this school year; they’re likely to be wearing masks.

The approximate 73 drivers across the county will also ask students to sit in assigned seats, not because they’ve been unruly, but due to COVID-19. Siblings will be required to sit together and if a student is alone, he or she will need to sit by an open window for better ventilation.

New bus procedures were presented to Bedford County Board of Education recently by schools superintendent Don Embry. BCBE officially approved those new safety measures Thursday night during its regular board meeting.

One big question on the minds of school board members lately has been how some already overcrowded school buses will safely operate during the continued pandemic. Time is running short, however, for any major transportation changes as school begins Aug. 3 for an abbreviated day.

“We’re pretty much going to follow the same guidelines in buses as we do in schools,” advised the superintendent during at a recent study session. “Masks won’t be mandatory, but highly encouraged. We will provide masks for students who want one and bus drivers will have extra masks on hand.”

Board member David Brown asked about drivers possibly checking student temperatures before they initially enter the bus. He said his thoughts are that this would be preventative and could assist school principals.

“No it won’t,” added Embry. “We’ve batted this back and forth, not only us, but other school systems. If you’ve got children who are waiting at a bus stop, and parents have already left to go to work, what do you do? You can’t refuse that child . . . have that child standing on the street and have no way of notifying parents. The parents may not be at home. We’re kind of . . . in a tough situation on that one. We had rather have the teachers checking the temperatures, rather than the drivers; they have a lot of responsibility. Even if we had a teacher assistant hired to check the temperature, Johnny can’t get off the bus. What do we do with them?”

Embry told board members if a child develops a fever during the day, that student will not ride school transportation home that afternoon. Someone responsible will have to pick them up from school, he informed.

Waivers may be required for students to ride buses this year. As far as waivers to take a student’s temperature, Embry assured board members that won’t be required.

“Space between students will depend on the number of students on the bus. We may have some crowded situations we’re just going to have to deal with.”

Board member Michael Cook asked Embry if it wouldn’t be wise to have required masks on the school buses? Embry said then the bus driver or the assistant, if there is one, will be responsible for making sure all students are masked.

Cook further questioned if there are 73 routes, and less students possibly riding the bus, would that free up other staff to ride buses as assistants. Embry said that is a good thought.

He assured board members how new health protocol calls for buses to be cleaned after every route with high emphasis placed on common areas of touch, such as door handles and the backs of seats.

“The buses should be cleaned at a minimum of two times a day . . . after morning and afternoon routes,” the superintendent read from his back-to-school plan. Face shields, gloves and masks will be provided for all special education buses. Training will be given to drivers, giving clear protocols for proper communication.”

With student pick up and drop off detail already hectic under normal circumstances, more car riders could add to greater traffic woes, the superintendent advised. Worst case, he told board members he might have to ask them to approve additional funding for more part-time school assistants.

“We may very well see more parents driving their kids in the morning or picking them up in the afternoons. The word to principals . . . be flexible. There’s going to be a lot of things like that. We’re just going to wade our way through. We’ll get it done. It’s going to be OK.”