Anticipated social distancing issues raise concerns for school bus drivers

Regional News

Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Zelienople, Pa. Pennsylvania schools are working on how they will safely transport students this fall, but one idea that won’t be part of the plan is to install plastic barriers around school bus drivers. The state Transportation Department rejected that idea recently, saying there wasn’t evidence it’ll make anyone safer. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

(WTEN)- As school districts roll out their plans for returning to school, they’re also introducing plans for busing. But some drivers are worried that the districts may not be addressing health concerns of everyone on those buses.

Thea Mansfield is a bus driver who has more than 25 years of experience working for several Capital Region school districts. She told NEWS10’s Anya Tucker that she is very concerned about returning to work because she anticipates a lack of safe social distancing.

“At first, we were geared toward every other seat on a school bus for our students, and now we are up to a seat per child. Which means they can literally reach out to the child in front of them — touch their heads, touch their face, touch their hands,” said Thea.

Right now, many districts have a plan to physically space students apart by using various methods. One way is to have staggered on and off days of “in-person” learning, which allows for extra room on each bus. They are also having one child only seated on a bench seat while riding the bus to and from school.

Students who are physically able to must also wear masks.

But Thea wondered how anyone could guarantee that children in the back of the bus, especially smaller children who are out of the driver’s line of sight, will keep their masks on.

“Because as drivers we have to watch the road.”

For many drivers, being a school bus driver is a part-time retirement gig. And at an older age, they are more susceptible to the virus, so that’s another concern.

Anya spoke with David Christopher, the Executive Director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, and asked if this might result in some drivers leaving.

“Yeah, we think so. We are preparing for that,” he said.

Christopher also told Anya that they were already in need of drivers prior to the pandemic.

“What we are trying to get is more clarity in terms of the social distancing issues. What exactly are you [school districts] looking for?” he added.

Robert Schneider, Executive Director for the New York State School Boards Association, told Anya that it all comes down to planning and coordination.

“I think it’s coordinating with the health department — the state health department. We are in the education business. We are not in the health business. That communication has been ongoing and we have to make sure we get it right based on what they are recommending.”

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