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What you need to know if your kids are riding the school bus this year in SWFL

Reporter: Sara Girard Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:

In one week, many of your children will board the big yellow bus once again, but this year will look much different.

At the bus stop, if your student has to wait with others, school districts recommend that everyone wears a mask and stay six feet apart. Once they hop on board, chances are social distancing might not be possible.

That’s why Lee, Collier, and Charlotte counties all require students to wear masks on the bus at all times.

“We had a small summer school which allowed us to see how kids would react, and they rose way above our expectation and kids were great,” said Tim Kutz, executive director for district operations in Collier County. “They were very responsive with the masks.”

Districts say if a driver or child tests positive for COVID-19, they’ll pull the bus from the route and sanitize it. Schools will contact parents.

“Really we’re hoping parents do the right job and monitor their kids. If the kids have a temperature and don’t feel well they should be kept home and not put on a bus,” said Roger Lloyd, director of transportation for the School District of Lee County.

Districts say thankfully with the combination of face-to-face and expended virtual learning, they expect fewer kids to ride the bus this year, leaving more space for everyone. Districts also say their plans are constantly evolving and being improved.

In Lee County:

  • Drivers and students are required to wear masks.
  • Students will load back to front and sit in assigned seats, keeping households together.
  • Weather permitting, windows will stay down.
  • Drivers will disinfect the bus at least four times a day, or between routes.
  • The district is providing drivers a safety kit of hand sanitizer, gloves and face-shields.
  • Students will get hand-sanitizer once at school.

“We’re also recommending that parents send their kids with a little hand sanitizer,” Lloyd said.

Lee County schools COVID-19 procedures
Video: Bus cleaning demo
Video: School reopening plan

In Collier County:

  • Drivers and students are required to wear masks.
  • Students will load back to front and sit in assigned seats, keeping households together.
  • Weather permitting, windows will stay down.
  • Students will have hand sanitizer available to them as they get on and off the bus and at school.
  • Safety goggles are available but not required.
  • Drivers will disinfect the bus at least once at the end of the day, and whenever necessary throughout.

“It’s a more, a much more stringent process today than we have done in the past,” Kutz said.

Collier County schools COVID-19 procedures
Video: First look at school year

In Charlotte County:

Via email, Mike Riley, a spokesperson for the Charlotte County School District, said:

“Our buses will run their normal routes that they have in past years. Students will be required to wear masks on the bus there will be a hand sanitizer available when they enter the bus and when they leave the bus if they choose to use it. For the benefit of the children, we are trying to do everything that they are used to so their school experience is as normal as possible. We are still looking at a variety of possibilities that will work for our students, as we are for every aspect of the school day.”

Charlotte County schools reopening plan

Fabiola Silva

Cape Coral mom Fabiola Silva has one daughter in virtual school, and two younger daughters riding the bus this year.

“At least in our case, we have no choice but to send them, and just pray for the best,” Silva said.

She asked us, “Who’s to say that they’re actually going to be cleaning the bus the proper way?”

We took that question to veteran bus operator Tony Bridley in Lee County.

“It’s like a pride thing for us to take care of our students, get them to school, and get them home safe. It’s like you gotta do it,” Bridley said. “To be even more blunt, we have a staff of safety team members and district leaders that if they have to, they will be pulling cameras and calling drivers into the office.”

Drivers have concerns too, but Bridley says while the changes are tough, he’s prepared.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say it is a little bit intimidating, but at the same time our top priority is students, school, home, safely,” Bridley said.

Q&A with Lee County school district Superintendent Greg Adkins

WINK News: “A lot of parents in a normal school year are concerned about busing. Add the pandemic on top of that, it seems nearly impossible to regulate it on a bus. What is the best way to approach that and how can we ease parents’ concerns about getting their kids to school safely?”

ADKINS: “One thing I would say to our parents is that the number of kids that are doing face-to-face has been reduced dramatically. We’re looking at numbers of about, approaching 40 thousand which isn’t even half of our population. So that means that if you think about buses, not even half of those necessarily ride a bus. And so you put those students on a bus with population of that bus that’s much less than what it was during a normal school year.”

“The second thing we do on the bus is we are going to assign seats and spread kids out. You know we’ll load from the back forward, so the first kids on the bus will be in the back and then every kid that comes on that bus will be spread out until the bus is at the end of its route. And then they’ll come out of the bus apart from each other and socially distanced and wear masks the whole time.”

WINK News: “I know you said there are less students enrolling in classrooms, but what if there is a bus that has more kids than it should even with assigned seating? What is the route then? Do you assign them to a different bus?”

ADKINS: “Yes, so what you would do, our transportation routing department would work to split that route up so that we can socially distance properly. We do anticipate, we really believe a lot of our parents are going to bring their kids to schools. That’s what our surveys have indicated. So we think we are going to be able to do that quite easily.”

Cape Charter Schools shows WINK News how drivers plan to keep kids safe on the bus:

Don’t forget you can monitor your child’s bus throughout the day on the Where’s The Bus app. For more information on that app, click here.