“Drivers and monitors, many of whom are over the age of 60, will be trapped in confined spaces for hours with children who are sure to be infected with COVID-19. Asking bus drivers and monitors to go back to work is asking them to risk their lives. With the risk of death from COVID-19 being higher for folks 65 and older, we can assume that drivers and monitors will contract it and some will die. That should be enough to keep schools closed.“
School bus drivers and monitors will die if schools are opened before COVID-19 is under control. I am a former school bus driver who worked for First Student in Coventry, Rhode Island and in my experience there is no way to effectively socially distance, let alone enforce social distancing, on a school bus. When I drove, despite being a healthy man in my 20s, I had never been as consistently sick in my life. Each child passed me daily, as they entered and exited the bus. While I maintained a safe distance from the children, I was regularly exposed to coughs and sneezes as they walked by. Keeping children in their seats was a challenge enough. Enforcing a mask policy would have been impossible.
During cold months, all of my windows would be up as I attempted to get the temperature of the bus above freezing and keep air circulation to a minimum. Many of my runs would have children in every seat, with just enough time to drop off one group before starting a run for the next school. With runs planned out to the minute, there was no time for cleaning or disinfecting an entire bus between runs. Drivers and monitors, many of whom are over the age of 60, will be trapped in confined spaces for hours with children who are sure to be infected with COVID-19. Asking bus drivers and monitors to go back to work is asking them to risk their lives. With the risk of death from COVID-19 being higher for folks 65 and older, we can assume that drivers and monitors will contract it and some will die. That should be enough to keep schools closed.
If you suggest that we can adapt bussing to keep drivers and monitors safe, I would argue otherwise. Bussing capacity is already stretched to the limit with a lack of drivers and trying to keep the bus fleet operational. Adding more buses or runs in order to limit the number of students on a bus will skyrocket costs and may not even be feasible due to staffing. School bus driving demands an odd schedule, incurring regular lay-offs, specialized training and licensing, drug testing, background checks and an aptitude for working with children. Pay is under $20 an hour, with few benefits. It is a job only few can do and fewer are willing to do. Despite this,our entire team loved our job.
School bussing is a critical link in the educational system, safely bringing your children to and from school, field trips and sporting events. More than just students and teachers will suffer if Rhode Island opens its schools too soon. Bus drivers, monitors, crossing guards, custodians, food service workers, administrative assistants, nurses and other staff who are critical to creating a safe and secure environment where children can grow and learn must be considered as states create goals and plans for reopening schools. Providing this service should not mean risking death. We do not want to lose one bus driver, monitor or critical support staff member to COVID-19, due to the hasty opening of Rhode Island schools. I hope that you can join me in contacting the Governor Gina Raimondo, Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and your local Superintendent and urge them to reconsider opening your school district until it is safe to return.