POLK COUNTY, Fla. — As Bay Area school districts grapple with the question of how to re-open schools safely, a key - and perhaps one of the most challenging components - is busing.
Polk County’s school released its plan Tuesday. It requires drivers and bus attendants to take their own temperature daily. Anything above 100° and they can’t board the bus.
Buses themselves will be wiped down and sanitized between runs. Deeper cleanings take place at the end of each day.
“We want our children to be safe,” said the district’s Crystal Robinson. “Our employees to be safe.”
Drivers, attendants and students must all wear face coverings. Students without face coverings need a written waiver a healthcare provider.
Windows and roof vents will be left open, weather permitting, to optimize the flow of fresh air.
Sanitizing stations have been installed onboard.
Also, buses will be loaded from the back towards the front and then emptied from front to back in order to minimize contact.
“Bus drivers will have additional face coverings to provide those students,” said Assistant Polk Schools Superintendent Rob Davis.
Drivers are getting eight hours of in-person training as well as receiving written materials. The district still needs to hire about 40 drivers. Typically, there are just over 500 during the school year. So far, applicants’ greatest concerns have centered on safety.
“We let them know in advance what we are doing and what’s going to be expected,” said Robinson.
CDC guidelines call for about 13 students per bus - one student per seat, skipping every other row.
But Polk County Schools calls that impossible. Their plan calls for a maximum two students per seat not skipping any rows.
“It would take all day to get students to school. And by the time we got them there it would be time to turn around and take them home,” said Davis.
The district was still waiting for survey results regarding school preferences. The more students who opt for e-learning versus in-person classes, the more room they’d have on buses to make adjustments.
If a student doesn’t follow the rules or if parents don’t re-enforce those rules, “Then the privileges of riding the bus will have to be discussed,” said Davis.
So far, the estimated cost for the changes, including sanitization and PPE, is close to $9 million.
The school district says most of that money will be covered by the CARES Act and that they expect to get a check from the Polk County Commission to cover the expenses soon.