Preliminary discussions begin regarding school bus operations in the fall

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CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. (NEWS10) — For most students, the school day starts and ends with a ride on the big yellow, so figuring out how that will play out in the fall is a topic that many agree needs to be addressed.

Nicole Epstein, a spokeswoman for New York School Bus Contractors Association, told NEWS10 ABC that while planning is still in the preliminary stages, they’re looking at ways to ensure that the school bus is still the safest way to get to and from school.

“So as an association as a whole, we’ve been trying to create a white paper of changes that are going to need to be made in order to start the discussion,” said Epstein.

As experts in the transportation industry, their wheels have already been turning in terms of possibilities for a sanitary and socially distanced ride. They’re also looking at what has and has not worked in other countries so far. Some of those ideas include Plexiglas barriers, staggered timing for school schedules or adding more buses and creating new routes to allow for less students on the bus at one time.

Those will all only remain ideas for now because districts are still waiting on guidance from the State and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they can put any solid plans in place.

David Christopher, Executive Director for the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, told NEWS10 that if the current CDC considerations remain the same, it would ultimately come down to a need for more buses, which is something that is not feasible for most districts due to expenses and staffing.

“Right now, the CDC is asking us to consider one student per bench seat and skip a row between the next student and then put that student in the opposite row. So it reduces a 66 passenger bus to about six to seven students,” said Christopher.

Dr. Oliver Robinson, Superintendent of Shenendehowa Central School District, told NEWS10 that adding more buses to lessen the amount of students on board is simply not an option for them.

“Each one of those big buses are $110,000 plus,” said Dr. Robinson.

Dr. Robinson said their district recently purchased disinfecting machines called Clorox Total 360. They can be used on the buses and in the classrooms. The disinfectant is non-toxic to humans, and a face mask is sufficient when dispensing the disinfectant. It kills viruses within two to four minutes and does not leave a residue on surfaces.

Epstein, Christopher and Dr. Robinson all expressed concerns regarding staffing as well. They said many districts were already experiencing a shortage of drivers even before COVID-19 and fear that issue will only be compounded further by new health concerns.

“We’re also dealing with a population of employees who are older. Drivers are usually retired. This is usually their second career. So they’re definitely more of the vulnerable population. So there’s also concern in the industry how many drivers are we going to have coming back in September?” said Epstein.

Christopher added that one thing they don’t have to wait on the state for is training, planning and purchasing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitizing products because they already know that’s going to be a must. So they’re doing what they can now in order to make sure their employees will feel safe coming back to work. 

The State Department of Education has established a Reopening Schools Regional Task Force comprised of parents, teachers, school and district leaders, school board members, as well as other interested parties. They will discuss and plan for a variety of strategies. Many local districts have also created their own reopening task forces on a smaller scale in order to focus on what will work best for their own elementary, middle and high school students.

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