Students must wear masks, but Duval school bus drivers still concerned about COVID-19

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County Superintendent said Monday it would take close to 10 hours to bus every student to school if the district used social distancing guidelines from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

The district plans to release the entire school reopening plan Tuesday morning, but on Monday, Superintendent Diana Greene explained her plan for keeping buses clean and safe for students.

Amid a pandemic and with less than a month until the start of school, Duval County Public Schools is releasing information on how it plans to get thousands of students to school safely.

The latest hurdle is an emergency order from the Florida Department of Health that requires every school building to open five days a week starting in August.

On Monday, Greene revealed it will be nearly impossible to follow CDC guidelines for socially distancing on a school bus.

“We already know that we cannot social distance on a school bus,” Greene said. “It was recommended for one student for every other seat. On a 77 passenger bus that’s somewhere between 9 and 11 students. It would take almost 10 hours to deliver our students if we were to put one student for every other seat.”

The president of the Jacksonville Teamsters Union, which represents close to 1,200 school bus drivers, said many are concerned the plan being developed by the school district, and private transportation companies that contract with the district, will put them at risk.

“The two business agents that handle it advise that they are getting calls daily. Particularly the older drivers,” Jim Shurling, President and Business Manager Teamsters Local 512. “They say they will have masks to provide to the drivers, they have hand sanitizer that they will put on the buses. The union we have also provided masks and hand sanitizer for them. We are trying to work with carriers to make sure there’s plenty of PPE for the drivers.”

Greene said school buses will be wiped down after every route and that students will be required to wear masks on buses and use hand sanitizer before getting on and off the bus.

The transportation company employing the largest amount of school bus drivers for Duval County didn’t answer questions about hazard pay or answering how often drivers would be tested.

A spokesman for Student Transportation of America said in a statement:

"We are committed to protecting and supporting our employees and the students we transport, especially in these challenging times. As such, we are working with the Duval County Public Schools on a back-to-school strategy to ensure the safety of both drivers and students."

Student Transportation of America also said it is continuing to monitor all government agencies, including the CDC, for their most current guidance and recommendations.

The district is expected to release more details about its reopening plan on Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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