Back to school season usually means helping your child with their summer reading list, shopping for school supplies, and choosing outfits.
But this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have a lot more to worry about.
Student transportation is among the more pressing issues on our minds. When it comes to the coronavirus, how dangerous are school buses? Social distancing measures can be implemented in classrooms by spacing students’ desks further apart, but the problem is much harder to tackle on a crowded school bus.
Consequently, many parents are opting to drive their own children to and from school. But how can they handle it in the midst of their already busy schedules? How can we keep our children safe? The answers vary across the nation.
In this article, we take a look at the state of student transportation, school bus safety measures, and school bus alternatives.
Getting Kids to School: COVID-19 Challenges
Many schools are starting with online instruction for the first several weeks of the school year and planning to officially reopen later on. Some schools are taking a hybrid approach, combining in-person and virtual learning. In this scenario, certain grades or classrooms would attend school on Monday and Tuesday while other grades or classrooms would attend on Thursday and Friday. The school would be thoroughly disinfected each Wednesday.
School districts are surveying families in the district about their plans — such as access to carpool or bike options, how many students per household, etc. — in order to better understand school bus demand.
The problem is that not every parent has a car, and even if they do, most don’t have time in their schedules to drive their children.
Currently, over a third of all school-aged kids ride the bus, taking a total of about 52 million trips a day. What changes will they be met with?
COVID-19 School Bus Safety Protocol
As students head back to school this year, many school buses will have reduced capacity and labeled seating. Loading and unloading will be done in a controlled manner. New CDC guidelines include daily disinfecting of buses, as well as mandatory face coverings for all drivers and riders.
However, with no specific unified approach, cities across the country are approaching the issue in their own way.
For example, Atlanta will reduce bus capacity to 60%. Philadelphia will only let 15 students on board, and Austin will only allow a dozen. (Under normal circumstances, standard school buses are intended to hold around 70 students.) In Boston, there will be one student per bench, alternating sides for each row, and bus windows will stay open during operation.
Some school districts will employ on-board volunteer monitors to help the driver enforce mask-wearing and assigned seating. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be stationed on the bus near the entrance, and temperature checks may also be conducted.
School buses may also take a cue from public transit buses, many of which have installed plexiglass barriers around drivers.
Some districts in Virginia are considering staggered class start times, alternating schedules, or holding in-person classes only once or twice a week.
Odessa, Texas is considering running buses all day, like public transit — constantly picking up and dropping off students in accordance with staggered class times.
In order to make these ideas feasible, more buses will need to be purchased or rented. This will be a huge expense for schools, at a time when many are already coping with budget cuts. Additional routes may need to be added to existing bus schedules, but like teachers, many bus drivers are quitting their jobs amid health concerns. Pre-COVID-19, research by the National Association for Pupil Transportation already reported serious driver shortages. Many believe in-person education should not be resuming without a COVID-19 vaccine ready.
In some cities like Houston, Texas, only special education and priority students will be transported for in-person classroom instruction initially, due to reduced bus capacity. Where does that leave the thousands of other children in the district?
Alternatives to School Buses
Driving a child to school in a parent’s personal vehicle is the most popular alternative to school buses, but for many working parents, this isn’t an option — and multi-family carpooling may pose safety concerns.
Instead, many schools are adding more bike racks to their campuses this year to encourage students to bike to school.
Others are organizing walking groups chaperoned by a parent or other volunteer.
Back to School Traffic Congestion
One issue receiving little attention in this maelstrom is that of traffic congestion.
More frazzled parents will be on the road transporting their children to and from school, which will undoubtedly cause car accidents to spike nationwide. The increased traffic to schools will make these commutes longer and trickier. Schedules for working parents will be strained — or impossible.
Additionally, car accident injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States, while an average of only six children each year are killed in school-bus crashes.
Preparing Your Child for School During COVID-19
- Decide on your transportation plan now. If your child will be biking, make sure they have appropriate safety gear and join them on a few practice rides to their school. If you’ll be driving your child, allow extra time to assess the traffic on the first few days of class. If you’ll be using an app, familiarize yourself with it thoroughly so there’s no unneeded chaos on the first morning back to school.
- Normalize wearing masks, even if your family has mostly been quarantining at home. Get your child accustomed to the sensation of wearing a face mask for hours at a time and emphasize the importance of keeping themselves — and others — safe. Sites like Etsy have fabric face masks in a variety of colors and styles, so look for ones featuring your child’s favorite characters.
- Get a hand sanitizer keychain for your child’s backpack. Sanitizer keychain holders are also available in a variety of popular characters and colorful styles.
- Have them change clothes as soon as they get home as an extra precaution. Don’t wear garments without washing, and spray the outsides of bags with disinfectant.
- Talk it out. Your child will likely have as many worries and anxieties as you do. Don’t be afraid to discuss these feelings with them. Keep them involved with video calls from family and friends, and dedicate time to helping them with their homework. See if any extracurricular activities will be conducted remotely. Changes in routines are difficult, but can be overcome together as a family.
Car Accident Lawyers and School Bus Accident Lawyers Are Here for You
As kids head back to school, preventing them from sitting side by side will prove difficult. Bus rides, historically, have been a time for students to socialize. Some even help each other with homework from the night before.
These changes will be tough on everyone, but we’ll all do our best to prioritize health and safety. While Children are less likely to be hit hard by COVID-19, they could still be asymptomatic carriers who bring the disease home to their families.
Whether you opt for driving your kids to school, having them ride school buses, or another transportation solution as we return to in-person education, we’re here for you. Should you or a loved one ever get in a car accident, you can have some peace of mind knowing a compassionate, dedicated law firm is on your side.
We’re a nationally-recognized law firm with headquarters in Houston, Texas, and offices all across the country. We proudly offer free consultations from our live experts, available 24/7.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident or school bus accident, reach out now.