Back to School: Almost business as usual for Anchorage school buses

Masks required on all routes, but no mandated social distancing
One of the general education buses for Anchorage School District.
One of the general education buses for Anchorage School District.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 7:00 AM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2021 at 10:35 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For much of last year, Anchorage School District bus drivers were delivering school supplies and chromebooks until last spring when students came back to in-person education. Now, they’re getting back once again to delivering students full time as the 2021-2022 year.

With that in mind, children are going to be out at the bus stops and walking through school zones once again. All motorists should be on the lookout for students getting to school once classes start on Aug. 17.

District Transportation Services Director Heather Philp said routes have changed this year for efficiency, and highly recommends that parents check on the route for their students on the transportation website.

Philp said, aside from a couple mitigation practices, bus rides will be “business as usual” for the most part.

The district is still gathering data on exactly how many students will be on the buses, but Philp said they are planning for numbers similar to pre-pandemic bus riders. She said there are over 17,000 students eligible to receive transport.

“The students will load the bus one at a time,” Philp said. “If the student does not have a mask, the driver will give a mask to the student to put on, they’ll offer sanitizer to the student. They’ll go back and they’re going to have a seating chart, so they’ll be required to sit where the driver has scheduled their seating.”

She reiterated that masks will be required on school buses. However, there won’t be any required social distancing.

That doesn’t mean that the buses will be completely full.

The general education buses can seat up to 84 kids. Philp said they would have around 60 children on board each one. She said the more densely populated a route is, the more students that could be on the bus.

Special education buses will vary even more to fit the students’ needs for wheelchairs and other accommodations, but generally there will be around 30 students on those buses.

Philp said about 75% of the special education buses will have bus monitors, and none of the general education buses will have them.

Before school officially gets started, Philp said bus drivers will go through refresher training in a number of areas, including special COVID-19 protocols. She said that training includes the bus drivers also wearing masks, giving masks to kids without them, and offering hand sanitizer as the students come aboard.

Philp said all the routes will be sanitized in between routes with specialized sprays.

The most important information Philp wanted to express is that people are not used to seeing students on the road. When the flashing lights of the bus go on, that means to stop.

District Sergeant of School Resource Officers Rayne Reynolds said that they also have patrol officers following buses to ensure that motorists obey the laws while driving around school buses.

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