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The formula for half-empty buses during the uncertainty of a pandemic

School Updates

SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) ─ School districts across the state are doing the math tied to their plans to transport students to school on time on buses that can only carry half as many as usual.

The number of students who will need transportation and when they will start is far from locked in, but the transportation plans have to be ready for every possibility.

In the hours before the vehicles are warmed up and ready to go, the drivers will get a daily check-up, as their temperatures are taken and they fill out a COVID-19 symptom questionnaire.

Districts are asking parents to check the young passengers’ health at home every day and keep them home if they show any signs of illness.

As they get on the bus, students will find hand sanitizer dispensers near the door before they head to their seats.

R.J Castagno, a regional manager for National Express, said his company began working on COVID-19 changes even before the number of local cases started spiking.

The biggest and most impactful change involves students sitting alone on each two-person bench-style seat.

“We’ve staggered [the students] to give them a little distance,” Castagno said. “We’ve also opened up the windows. It’s going to offer proper ventilation going through here.”

The ventilation part of the plan is expected to change when the cold weather arrives.

“Luckily, we’re not in the weather where we have to deal with that,” Castagno said. “I think that more information will be coming and we’ll be learning as we go.”

Fran Adamski, general manager for Durham School Services’ Smithfield office, said one factor offsetting the lower passenger capacity is the relatively high number of families opting out of transportation.

“That is absolutely what is going to help,” Adamski said. “You’ve had bus routes that have gone down from 50 students, down to 20.”

Opting out is expected to be less possible for some parents, stretching some bus fleets that are closer to capacity even though each vehicle can carry half as many students per run.

Adamski has worked in both Woonsocket and Providence, where she believes more families will need busing.

“The only way some students can get to school is on a bus,” Adamski said. “It is very difficult to fit those numbers into the existing fleet.”

Once the kids are off the bus, cleaning crews will move in, focusing on the spots hands touch the most, according to Smithfield Safety Training Supervisor Jackie Farrar.

“Handles. The tops of the seats,” Farrar said. “You want to make sure you’re getting all of them.”

While planning has been vital, bus company and district leaders admit the details could change depending on what the school year and the virus bring.

“We will be ready to adapt,” Castagno said.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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