Local school bus companies focused on cleaning, distancing as some kids head back to class

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — For students returning to their classrooms this fall, families might also wonder what busing will look like during the pandemic.

From the flashing lights to the extended stop arm and stop sign, buses are loaded with a lot of safety features. But now, there’s a whole new focus on health amid COVID-19.

“Measures and protocols and practices that we’ve put in place this year are all set up to provide the greatest level of protection,” said Ron Leimbach, director of safety for Durham School Services.

Durham provides busing for Blue Valley and five other metro districts. Every day, it asks workers about coronavirus symptoms or exposure and takes their temperature.

Bus companies will work to get assigned seats for riders and load the bus from back to front to help with social distancing. They’ll also open windows when possible for extra ventilation.

Social distancing is a key part of all planning for this fall’s bus routes. Families are helping with that. Blue Valley alone is seeing a 30% drop in expected ridership.

“The requirements for space in a bus differ by the bus itself, the seating capacity,” Leimbach said. “So we work with our district partners to develop a plan to address the social distancing and space requirements, along with guidance from the CDC, to maintain that safe distance inside the bus, as well as any routing, scheduling we can put in place to ensure we can maintain proper spacing for all employees.”

First Student, which serves about a dozen area districts, worked with university testers to find the best cleaning products to disinfect bus surfaces.

“We really want to concentrate on any high-touch areas for the kids when they’re getting on the school bus,” said Darlene David, First Student’s regional training manager. “They hold the hand rail. They’re going and sitting down in the seats. Every time a student gets on and off that bus, it’ll be cleaned.”

Drivers will all wear masks and have gloves for cleaning, which will happen between morning and afternoon trips. If there’s a confirmed COVID-19 case, companies will do contact tracing and work with districts to notify affected families.

“Where they’ve been, if they’ve been on any buses, if they’ve been on any trips, to trace any of that if there are students involved. There are definite reporting measures we take that go to the school district as well as through our company, our own task force, to verify everyone is healthy and safe,” Davis said.

Bus companies across the region are always looking for both full-time and substitute drivers, which could be at a critical need if COVID-19 cases climb. 

Since it’s been several months without school buses on the road, drivers are also asking everyone else on the road to be extra cautious around buses and kids boarding and disembarking.

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