Masks will be vital on school buses, where distancing is difficult

To combat the virus, educators readily acknowledge that extra care will be needed on the ride to and from school.
The bus ride to and from school will be the most difficult time of day for students to keep social distance, officials acknowledge. Some new rules will apply this year, including mask-wearing for all.
The bus ride to and from school will be the most difficult time of day for students to keep social distance, officials acknowledge. Some new rules will apply this year, including mask-wearing for all. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2013) ]
Published Aug. 4, 2020|Updated Aug. 5, 2020

BACK TO SCHOOL 2020 | Click to scroll down for more

Of all the times in the school day, bus rides will be the most problematic when it comes to keeping people safe from the coronavirus.

Social distancing will be difficult enough in schools, but on buses there is little room to maneuver.

“We’re relying on the masks” said Pasco County Schools spokesman Steve Hegarty. Pasco, along with the Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando districts, is requiring that students wear masks on buses in addition to inside school buildings.

Students without face coverings will be provided disposable masks before entering the bus, said Erin Maloney, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Public Schools. The same will happen in Pinellas, officials there say.

Consistent violations of the mask rule will result in a call to parents, according to the Pinellas and Pasco reopening plans.

Tampa Bay area districts also are taking a number of other precautions on school buses.

All four school systems will be placing hand sanitizers at the front of buses, and will encourage students to use them when getting on and off the vehicles.

Hillsborough will devise seating charts to keep students apart as much as possible. Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando will encourage siblings to sit together.

Though a school bus seat can hold up to three children, students will be asked to sit in pairs, said Hernando school spokeswoman Karen Jordan.

Buses can typically hold up to 77 students, Jordan said, but the district will attempt to arrange routes to limit the maximum to 50 students.

Adding more buses would be an expensive option for districts that are already financially strapped this year from having to spend millions on steps to combat the virus. None of them have announced such a step, which means they will be spacing out routes using their existing fleets.

Even if the school system could buy more buses, it wouldn‘t help because of chronic driver shortages, said Maloney, the Hillsborough spokeswoman.

Most districts will tell students to sit as far to the back of the bus as possible when getting on. When unloading, those in the front seats will get off first. This will minimize students passing each other, officials say.

Drivers will be directed to wipe seats, handrails and other high-touch surfaces between routes, districts say. Buses also will receive a cleaning at the beginning and end of each day. And, if weather permits, drivers also may open windows to improve air circulation.

Under Hernando’s reopening plan, if a student riding the bus contracts the virus, the vehicle involved will be deep cleaned before returning to service.

In Hillsborough and Pinellas, plans include staggered pick-up and drop-off times at schools to encourage more distancing.

Under current plans, school districts are in the process of figuring out class schedules and bus routes. If late-August reopening dates remain the same, families should be getting notices of their bus routes soon.

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