School Buses and COVID-19 Safety
Masks, socially-distant assigned seats and open windows could be the new normal.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -
School districts across Alaska are making adjustments in how students will ride school buses this year, and drivers and attendants have new responsibilties. As schools prepare to re-open, changes in transportation are another aspect of education that’s changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Anchorage, because the community’s COVID-19 risk level is considered high, students are starting on-line classes instead of going into school buildings. While school buses are not currently shuttling kids to class, the district is deploying buses for what it’s calling “ST-UBER” - student transportation UBER. The service is delivering chromebooks and meals to students, driving nurses to see students, and bringing some students to appointments for educational assessments.
When schools resume in-person teaching, the Anchorage School District will require students and drivers to wear masks, limit students to one child per row unless they are a family group, and provide assigned seating. A supply of extra masks will be on the bus to hand out to students who do not have one. Drivers will monitor the boarding process to ensure students maintain social distancing. Between student runs, the drivers will use electrostatic sprays to disinfect seats and surfaces, and all buses will undergo the same cleaning at the end of each day.
Other communities are taking different approaches.
In Craig, where the school district is opening under a low risk model and students will return to the classroom, masks are encouraged, but not required.
In Kenai, drivers and attendants will clean between morning and afternoon runs, and students are expected to wash hands when entering and exiting their school. They are encouraging, but not requiring masks, and asking families who live within 1.5 miles of their school are asked to transport their students on their own, which will allow more space on the buses and allow for a back up bus in case any routes are at higher than desired capacity. Drivers and attendants on buses that are transporting children who have difficulty with masks or changes in routine will have the adults on those routes wear face shields instead of masks so that the students can see the faces of the people who are assisting them.
The different plans were shared Aug. 11th during a virtual summit on the topic held by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. School districts in Anchorage, Craig and Kenai, shared that personal protective equipment remains difficult to come by, and that they’ve needed to clarify that school bus drivers are not health professionals. Screening children for COVID-19 should remain a responsilbity of school nurses, they said.
The Mat-Su Borough School District, which is opening with a return to school, told KTUU they handle student transportation with three different bussing contractors, and added that like other districts, they are offering assigned seating and will try to limit one student to a seat when possible unless the students are a family group. Enhanced disinfecting will be performed, and if school buses start operating at higher than 65% capacity they will alert families. buses will still run with higher ridership, but the goal of family notification is to give families the ability to find other transportation if they want to.
The Centers for Disease Control has made the following recommendations for School Bus Transportation:
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily or between use as much as possible.
- School bus drivers should practice all safety actions and protocols as indicated for other staff (e.g., hand hygiene, cloth face coverings).
- Cleaning products should not be used near children, and staff should ensure that there is adequate ventilation when using these products to prevent children or themselves from inhaling toxic fumes.
- Drivers can create distance between children on school buses, including seating children one student per row facing forward and skipping rows between students. However, students who live in the same household may sit together if needed. Schools may consider alternative strategies to accommodate the reduced number of students in buses, such as staggered pick up and drop off times or additional bus routes.
- Schools should consider having spare, clean cloth face coverings available to ensure all students wear cloth face coverings on the school bus.
- Drivers can open bus windows to increase circulation of outdoor air, but should ensure that doing so does not pose a safety or health risk (e.g., risk of falling).
- During dismissal, schools may provide physical guides, such as signs and tape on the sidewalk, to ensure that students and school staff remain at least 6 feet apart while waiting for transportation.
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