By Kendall McGee | March 11, 2021 at 5:41 PM EST – Updated March 11 at 6:09 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Leaders at New Hanover County Schools are using more than rags and disinfectant to curb the spread of the coronavirus on their buses.
While the district has seen a dramatic increase in car riders, many families are still using the bus to get to and from school each day.
Having been behind the wheel of a school bus for six years now, Shawanna Anderson has seen a lot of changes in New Hanover County Schools. The most striking differences though, have come over the last few months responding to the pandemic.
“We’re trying the best that we can to keep our kids safe and sanitize our buses,” said Anderson. “Just because the vaccine is out there doesn’t mean that the virus is gone.”
New, more efficient routes, social distancing, temperature checks and strict cleaning protocols are now part of Anderson’s everyday routine.
They’re trying to keep kids distanced as much as they can, according to transportation director Mark Clawson.
“We no longer can restrict only one rider per seat — would like to keep it to two but in some instances we’ll have three per seat. But, we’ve been able to do that because we’ve changed the way that we pick up and drop off kids; those runs are shorter so even though the social distancing may not be there, the time duration they’re exposed to each other is restricted and we tend to say that if a student can’t be — if there has to be three to a seat, they can’t be in that same seat for more than five to 10 minutes,” said Clawson.
Drivers have their temperature checked when they come into work and are required to wipe down their buses between runs. Additionally, staff members are using machines called ionizers to spray bus seats and surfaces with a fine mist of disinfectant twice a day to further prevent the virus from spreading.
“We have a crew that comes in in the morning, in the afternoon, to disinfect all the buses with ionizers. We will continue to do that with it going forward, forever, because even if COVID goes away, the common cold doesn’t, the flu doesn’t go away,” explained Clawson.
It’s not the only change that is likely here to stay. Parents have also asked the department if there’s any chance they’d go back to picking up kids inside neighborhoods ever again. The transportation director said its unlikely they’d go back to the routes in place before the pandemic.
“The short answer is, “no,” because we just don’t have the number of drivers, and even when we did have more drivers and we went into those neighborhoods, we couldn’t get to those stops on time,” said Clawson.
It’s a constant game of give and take, but veteran bus driver Anderson likes many of the changes she sees and believes the guidelines in place will protect students for years to come.
“It’s changed a lot. I hope it’ll make us stronger as a team, as a group and, as we call ourselves, as a family, so I’m praying that it does,” said Anderson.
The transportation department reports there is a shortage of bus drivers still. In the past year, they’ve seen about 35 positions open as drivers get promotions in the department, retire, or move out of town. While they have half a dozen drivers ready to get behind the wheel after their DMV training is completed, it’s a constant challenge keeping their numbers up.
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