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Some school districts don't have COVID-19 safety plans finalized for bus transportation

D60 transportation talks COVID-19 bus plans; Other districts point to online return to school packets
Bus Plans
Posted at 5:43 PM, Aug 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-17 17:43:29-04

As more school districts release its plans to keep kids safe in the classroom this fall, News 5 Investigates found some districts don't have formalized policies on how they plan to keep children safe on school buses.

We asked five major districts in El Paso County and 1 in Pueblo what precautions and policies they are implementing for students who ride the public school bus.

Some districts were honest and admitted they don't have a plan finalized yet. Others simply ignored our questions and never responded.

Only 1 district (D-60) appeared to have a plan on paper with its third-party transportation provider and had no issues talking with News 5 about it.

We sent inquiries to the following school districts:
Colorado Springs District 11
Widefield District 3
Academy District 20
Harrison District 2
Pueblo District 60
District 49

We contacted the above major districts to find out the following:
(1) What safety measures are being implemented on school buses?
(2) Is there a finalized safety plan ready to go?
(3) With a reduced capacity on board buses, will the district need additional buses?

"Most of our districts have released our return plans (subject to change) and this information may be found in many of our plans," District 11 spokesperson Devra Ashby said. "Ours may be found here and you may locate the answers to your questions under the transportation section."

According to the D11 plan published online:
-All bus riders, drivers and bus assistants will wear face masks
-Windows will be open 2-3 inches at all times.
-Students will be assigned seats.
-Siblings will be asked to share seats while single riders will be seated individually.
-Classroom cohorts will be allowed to sit together.
-Drivers will spray stabilized aqueous ozone after every run.
-Hand sanitizer will be available for bus drivers and staff only.
-Buses will be loaded from the back to the front to prevent students from passing other students via the aisle. Afternoon bus loading will be first on, last off to enable safe and efficient unloading at bus stops.

District 11 did not address whether any additional buses will be needed for social distancing guidelines.

News 5 also requested an on-camera interview to go over the transportation safety plan in detail, but we did not receive a response back.

Meanwhile, District 49 did not respond to our inquiry and neither did Academy District 20.

While D20 did not answer our questions, we were able to confirm that their transportation plans aren't finalized yet.

"Two weeks ago the district Transportation Department issued communication that bus route options would be released today," Superintendent Tom Gregory said via an eNewsletter on July 31. "As with many situations in the current environment, there has been a short delay with that information, and it will be sent late next week (this week), after plans for reopening schools have been shared and parents have more information."

Harrison District 2 also pointed News 5 Investigates over to their 11-page return to school online plan. The transportation safety plan is relatively short---only three sentences.

It states the following:
-Students and drivers will wear masks.
-Students from the same household will be seated together.
-Windows will be down to provide for additional ventilation.

There was no mention of any cleaning procedures, but Christine O'Brien, the spokesperson for the district told me there will be a "practice" of thoroughly cleaning buses. She also clarified that the plan released online is subject to be changed and is a "living document". This means that parents should frequently check back on the web page for updated information as what you print out today may be outdated come the start of the school year.

Widefield School District 3 tells News 5 that their plans are still a work in progress.

"We are still working on a hard plan," spokesperson Samantha Briggs said. "We just wrapped up a survey on transportation needs in the district that we will be going through to help with planning. Hoping to have something more concrete next week (this week). This is what we have communicated to staff and families so far, it is also on our website."

Briggs said the following measures so far will be in place:
-Students, drivers and monitors are required to wear masks.
-Students will be assigned seats. Family members will be allowed to sit together.
-Bus windows will remain open at all times. If weather does not permit open windows, hatch fans, when applicable will be turned on.

"I think the biggest challenge is not going to be having those students sitting with their friends," Student Transportation of America (STA) Operations Manager Cindy Bailey said. "The little ones aren't going to understand why they can't sit with their friend."

STA provides bus service for Pueblo School District 60.

"We're going above and beyond," she said. "I already have plenty of wipes and plenty of masks for drivers. Students will be getting on the bus with masks. We will have masks for them if they forget them at home or don't have them."

Bailey says there will be assigned seating and only 1 child per seat.

Weather permitting, windows will also be open for circulation.

Buses will also be cleaned daily.

"I have one of our mechanics who is going to do each and every bus every night," she said.

Ridership numbers remain uncertain, but Bailey says she's ready with a plan to help get kids to and from school safely. Any student who needs to ride the school bus will be accommodated.

"People are excited about going back to school but whether or not they go, that's still yet to be seen," she said.

As school districts update their back to school plans, we'll be posting them here.

Do you have a school safety concern you'd like News 5 Investigates to look into? Contact us via email any time by sending a message to News5Investigates@KOAA.com.

Transparency report:

Q: When did you reach out to school districts for comment?
A: The following districts were contacted on Monday, July 27: 2, 11, 20, 49, 3. District 60 was contacted Tuesday, July 28.

Q: You reached out to Pueblo District 60 but not 70. Why?
A: Pueblo District 70 is starting the school year online. As they shift to in-person classes, we will ask for their bus safety policies as well.

Q: If districts send you additional information following your report, will you update this article?
A: Absolutely. As soon as we receive new information, our web story will be updated accordingly. News 5 has already started compiling back to school plans on our web site. That article can be found here.

Update (8/12/2020):

Widefield School District 3 submitted the following information to KOAA 5 on August 12:

The WSD3 Transportation Department is putting COVID-19 safety plans into place to keep students and staff safe on the bus.

Safety and health protocols include:

  • Loading students back to front, and discharging front to back
  • Taking attendance (a procedure we already do) to allow for contact tracing if necessary
  • Students will be assigned seats. Family members will share seats.
  • All students and staff must wear masks or facial coverings on the bus
  • Parents will be expected to take their child’s temperature and do a wellness screening before leaving the house and to withhold an ill student from attending school.
  • A symptom guide will be posted on the side of the bus
  • Bus windows will be open at all times as weather permits. If weather does not permit, hatch fans, when applicable, will be ‘on’ during routes.
  • Buses will be cleaned three times per day (after morning routes, after midday routes, and after afternoon routes)