The wheels on the bus will still go round and round, but riding those yellow school buses certainly will be a different experience this fall semester.
For example, students will be required to wear masks and the buses will only be about half-filled. School officials in area districts said if students don’t have masks, an adult on board will provide one.
These are among the steps being taken to reduce the chances of exposure to COVID-19.
State law mandates district’s provide busing to students who are eligible based on distances established by local officials.
New state guidelines around school reopening suggested local districts survey families on their plans for in-person or remote school attendance. Families were also asked whether they plan to use bus transportation.
Cheshire is looking to fill part-time bus monitor positions by recruiting parents and other family members, and current staff interested in adding extra duties.
Vincent Masciana, Cheshire schools chief operating officer, said the plan is to have monitors on board buses for at least the first two weeks to help make sure new rules are being followed and that students develop “good habits” about masks and social distancing.
“The key priority here is just to help ensure that students are boarding the bus with their masks on and to serve as overseers of the mask wearing during the bus ride,” Masciana said.
Masciana said about half of the families who responded to the District’s surveys said their students would be riding the bus. The District’s regular buses are large capacity, and can normally fit 71 or 82 passengers.
Masciana said there should be no more than 50 students on board during the course of any one bus route. At Cheshire High School, where students will attend every other day under a hybrid model, bus ridership is expected to be even lower.
School and police officials, who are expecting increased vehicle traffic around school arrival and dismissal, are still finalizing plans around staggered drop off times and drop off locations.
In neighboring towns, officials are making similar changes.
During a normal school year in Meriden, about 5,000 out of 8,000 students ride the bus. This fall semester, Assistant Superintendent for Technology and Operations Michael Grove is anticipating those numbers will be down to 3,000 students.
Grove said about 35 percent of Meriden Public School families opted for distance learning to start the school year. The district is still planning to have busing available for all students who qualify.
“We plan for a seat for every student who could take a bus,” Grove said.
Grove and other local school officials said they are not planning to add new school buses or to reduce the number of bus routes and stops. They do plan to have more adults on board to make sure students are following the new rules.
Wallingford School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said the hiring of bus monitors and other new staff is among the many challenges his district faces with reopening. The school system received state aid to hire bus monitors, but still needs funding for the hiring of other aides and teachers, he said. Another additional cost will be the twice daily deep cleaning after morning and afternoon bus runs.
“There are still a lot of gaps,” Menzo said.
Southington Public Schools Superintendent Tim Connellan anticipates the first two weeks will be an adjustment period as the district works out the kinks of its new arrival and dismissal times and procedures.
“I think one of the things that’s going to be challenging for us is the timing of transportation, because we do know we will have more parents providing transportation to school,” Connellan said. “That means there will be more vehicles entering and leaving school grounds, along with buses. I anticipate that will be a challenge we have to work through.”