PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Catching a ride on the big yellow school bus has been one of the safest ways to get kids to school, but now there’s an invisible threat called the coronavirus.
Masks are required on school buses, but new CDC guidance allows students to sit closer together than last semester.
“We have been given flexibility to have more than one student per seat wearing masks,” said Director of Student Transportation for Chesapeake Public Schools, Dr. Dave Benson.
You’ll find two to three students to a seat in Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach. For parents concerned for their student’s safety, Dr. Benson said there haven’t been any COVID-19 outbreaks on their school buses.
“I’ve had students who maybe have had to be quarantined because a student was on the bus who tested positive, but to my knowledge none of that has been tracked back to a transmission on the bus,” said Dr. Benson.
As an extra mitigation method, bus drivers sanitize each seat after their shifts.
“The product we use is the same one emergency management uses in ambulances,” explained Dr. Benson.
Portsmouth Public Schools Transportation Coordinator Kevin Privott says their bus drivers went through a COVID-19 safety course.
“Our drivers have been trained for the first time in Portsmouth public school history,” said Privott.
But school bus safety isn’t the only issue this year. There’s also a major bus driver shortage across the region.
“It’s kind of disheartening for what we want to provide, the best service possible for students and give them the opportunity not only to go to school but field trips, academies,” said James Lash, Executive Director of Transportation for Virginia Beach Public Schools.
Chesapeake needs 113 drivers, Virginia Beach about 110, and Portsmouth 29.
Some Chesapeake bus drivers will pick students up in two trips, which could lead to students being up to 30 minutes late for class. Parents can help by dropping their kids off at school when they can.
“The biggest issue that causes is delays for the students,” said Benson.
In Virginia Beach — the shortage has led to changes in bus routes this year
” We are combining some routes and we’re putting students on some of our academy buses to be more efficient in light of the bus driver shortage,” said Lash.
Chesapeake and Portsmouth schools are offering bonuses to new drivers in amounts from $250 to $1,000.
On the other hand, in Virginia Beach, Lash says they aren’t offering any incentives.
“From what I’m understanding that’s not helping in some cases in other division,” stated Lash.
If cash incentives and job fairs aren’t working, how bad will the shortage get in the next 5 years?
It’s a problem that could change the landscape of public-school transportation forever.
“I do know there are school districts I’ve read where they’ve had to eliminate some of the services they offer, simply by not have enough qualified candidates to drive school buses,” Lash said.
Hampton City Schools announced it is holding walk-in interviews for potential bus drivers, from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. at the Patriot Center each Wednesday until September 29. Get more information at this link.