The American School Bus Council (ASBC), in partnership with the Student Transportation Aligned for Return To School (STARTS) Task Force, is working to ensure a safe and seamless back-to-school start for the more than 25 million students who ride the school bus to school every day. Together, they have authored the STARTS Task Force reopening report, “Guidelines, Tactics, and Templates” for school transportation professionals to reference in developing reopening plans. The report also provides insights on what parents can expect this school year and how to increase the safety of their child on the bus and in the classroom.
“We know that riding a school bus is the safest way to get to and from school – 70 times safer than other modes of transportation, in fact,” said Charlie Hood, executive director for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. “Parents are understandably concerned about how their children will be protected from COVID-19. The nation’s student transportation professionals and manufacturers are working with school districts and transportation providers across the nation to ensure that students continue to have safe access to education. The transportation plans to support the varied models for reopening of schools being developed by state and local education leaders will ensure that school buses continue to be a safe way to get to school, even in a COVID-19 environment.”
What is the STARTS Task Force transportation reopening report?
The STARTS report, “Guidelines, Tactics, and Templates,” which was authored by the STARTS Task Force, includes a set of guidelines and tactics to help schools minimize the risk of students and staff contracting and transmitting the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and COVID-19 disease across all of the different school settings. The report was developed based on CDC guidelines and in consultation with school transportation associations, school bus manufacturers, school board associations, health professionals and districts from across all 50 states.
The report provides a compendium of information and tools to aid in developing and managing school transportation and re-opening plans at the local school district level. Each district will consult applicable state and local public health orders as well as applicable state and federal agency regulations and guidelines for a safe reopening of their specific schools. Parents, students and other interested parties should regularly seek the best available information from their local school boards, health agencies and policy makers on what is being done to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus and contracting COVID-19 within their local communities.
A Glimpse into the Next School Year
For districts that will start in-person classes this fall, there are some universal guidelines parents might expect this school year. As the school year and COVID-19 evolve, contingency plans and additional guidelines will be put into place. For now, parents may see some changes such as:
- School bus drivers, bus aides and all members of the transportation staff will undergo ongoing monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms via screenings, self-monitoring, and routine testing. Individuals who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 will be asked to stay home until it is deemed safe for them to return to work.
- Drivers, aides and staff will also wear a mask and possibly other PPE in accordance with state and local guidelines and sanitize their hands throughout the day.
- Schools will increase ongoing and routine cleaning and sanitization of high-touch surfaces within school buses such as handrails, seat backs, etc. Increased deep cleaning will also take place in the event of COVID-19 exposure.
- Students may be required to wear face coverings, and parents may be expected to ensure they do not allow their children to board the bus if they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to the virus.
- Based on reopening plans and locally adopted school schedules, many districts may alter routes, seat assignments and plans for extracurricular travel.
- School districts will also have additional procedures and requirements in place for special needs students.
How Parents Can Help Minimize the Spread of COVID-19
While schools and their transportation departments are working hard to ensure the safest environment possible, there are some steps that parents can take to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on the school bus and in the classroom. ASBC recommends that parents consider the following tips this school year:
- If your child is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or has a fever, keep them home for monitoring and have them tested for COVID-19.
- Remind your child to:
- Wash their hands upon leaving the house and use hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting the school bus unless other physical conditions recommend against such use.
- Wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth in accordance with school policies, state and local guidelines. (Special attention / procedures may be in place for students who are unable to wear a mask, such as those with special needs.)
- Practice social distancing at the bus stop and throughout the school day.
- Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue, sleeve or elbow when coughing or sneezing and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid touching other students or personal items, such as pencils, paper, water bottles, etc.
“The school bus is not just a safe, environmentally-friendly and convenient way to get to school, but a vital instrument in helping our children remain in the classroom and improving our education system,” said Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation. “For many students, the school bus is the only way that they can get to and from school safely. We want to assure parents and kids that although going back to school may look a little different, precautions will be put in place to ensure the safest possible school start. And together, we can look forward to safe and successful school year.”
Where to Find More Information
Parents are encouraged to contact their local district to learn about opening procedures and guidelines for their school.
District and school administrators seeking input for reopening and school transportation plans can view the STARTS reopening report on the American School Bus Council site or via the STARTS Task Force.