Are you riding the bus to school?

A school bus leaves Payette High School on Aug. 25. Changes to busing during the COVID-19 pandemic include mask-wearing when social distancing is not possible, home groups in some cases.

WESTERN TREASURE VALLEY — With school starting for Idaho students in the coming days, bus transportation remains a concern for many parents. As schools prepare for a socially distant 2020-21 school year, the newspaper reached out to area school districts to learn how each plans to get their students to campus. Following is a sample of their comments.

Fruitland School District

Fruitland Superintendent Lyle Bayley said that students can expect some changes to their ride home.

“Transportation has adapted our new bus protocols by seating students in home groups,” wrote Bayley in an email on Aug. 18. “We have also changed our routes some from last year which also helps with social distancing as much as can be expected on our busses.”

On board, students will be expected to wear a mask as the District is operating under the ‘yellow’ level of its leveled operating plan. Students will attend classes in-person two days per week with online learning the rest of the school week.

“Students will also be asked to wear a mask on the bus if we are seeing community spread of the COVID virus. We will have a supply of masks available if students forget theirs.”

Despite the anxiety surrounding the present pandemic, Bayley reports excitement among drivers.

“Our bus drivers are reporting that they are ready to go and are anxious to see the kids!”

Payette School District

With many of Payette’s students needing busing for safety reasons, Superintendent Robin Gilbert said the District is tackling that need head-on.

“Routes take into account locations and number of students. Buses also deliver students between buildings for us,” wrote Gilbert in an email on Aug. 19. “They also set bus routes that incorporate our afterschool program at the Primary and Westside. Safety busing, which was approved at the last regular Board meeting makes sure that students who may live close to school but would have to cross the train tracks or highway have safe access to school.”

Gilbert says masks are encouraged and seating will be assigned to help with contact tracing, including with family units when possible.

“In yellow masks are required when physical distancing is not possible,” said Gilbert. “Bus drivers have masks and face shields to use. Buses will be sanitized nightly and hand sanitizer is available.”

The District’s busing details are listed on its level operating plan on their website, payetteschools.org. Gilbert praised bus drivers for working to make these plans possible.

“Bus drivers have been working since spring break transporting meals and packets. They are ready to go and pleased to be employed.”

New Plymouth School District

While routes themselves haven’t changed, Sue Hally, Business Manager for New Plymouth says students can expect the ride itself to be different this year.

“Students will be required to wear a mask if they are unable to social distance (6 feet apart),” wrote Hally in an email on Aug. 20. “Hand sanitizer will be on every bus and siblings will sit together. Buses will be sanitized after each route, a.m. and p.m.”

While cost increases are yet to be seen, Hally says the District’s human capital is ready to invest in driving students.

“The driver’s have been given an inservice on the necessary precautions.  The drivers are following safety requirements and are ready to start school.”

Weiser School District

The earliest risers in this roundup, Weiser resumed school on Aug. 20. Noting a mixed bag of emotions from parents, Superintendent Wade Wilson described the present situation as “an incredibly complex issue.”

“In terms of busing we have not, at this point, adjusted routes,” wrote Wilson in an email on Aug. 19. “We are encouraging parents to help reduce ridership wherever possible right now.  Since we are starting using the blended learning model we will cut in approximately half our daily ridership.  And, we have recommended to parents that students who live within walking distance of school walk whenever possible, and we have suggested to parents that if they have the opportunity to transport their child to and from school that they do so.”

Face masks will be available for those who need them, Wilson said. Students and staff on campus and riding District vehicles will be required to wear masks if distancing is not possible.

Wilson acknowledged concern among teachers and parents about contact with students, noting the District has “a number of staff” who are identified as being at higher risk for COVID-19.

“It is fair to say that many parents and students (and staff) are frustrated with the conditions COVID has created.  Some feel we need to have students in school full-time and that there are only minimal risks to student health, while others have major concerns with any plans that allow contact between individuals.  I get it — a person’s stance right now really reflects the beliefs they have for their child’s safety (or for their safety) as it relates to COVID. And, they are all correct for their own personal reasons.”

The District will reevaluate its busing strategy once they have seen how present plans pan out.

New Plymouth and Payette are opening under level one of their operations plans (all students in-person each day), Fruitland and Weiser level two (two groups, each alternating in-person days).

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