Concerns over bus safety vary widely
Charlene Pschigoda has been a Hillsboro bus driver for 30 years. For the past few years, she has mainly transported students for the CHUMS after-school program while working during school hours as a para-educator.
CHUMS partners elementary students with Tabor College students to build educational and emotional bonds.
Now, Pschigoda is worried that won’t be possible.
“I’m wondering whether that program will even happen,” she said. “It’s in question whether the transportation will be provided.”
Keeping children safe is about educating them on the importance of masks and social distancing, Marion grandmother Linda Lovelady said.
Part of that education is that some preventative measures, like masks, aren’t for protecting the wearer but are for protecting people around the wearer.
Jerry Kline drives part-time for Marion sports teams and only sometimes handles routes to drop off or pick up students.
Because Kline usually drives sports teams, a faculty sponsor also is on his bus as well and can make sure proper safety measures are being maintained.
“There are masks, and we have stuff to disinfect our hands,” he said. “I’m really not worried.”
Many bus drivers, like Pschigoda and Kline, are in the age group most at risk from coronavirus.
Even senatorial candidate Roger Marshall expressed concern last week over the issue, stressing that school safety may be less about making sure children are safe and more about protecting staff.
“For a teacher with Type-2 diabetes, we need to find a teaching opportunity for him or her outside the classroom,” said Marshall, an obstetrician by trade.
Kline isn’t concerned, however, since he has had no issues in the past with getting sick from the spread of germs.
“Last year, when I did do it, people sneezed and coughed on me every time I was driving,” he said. “I escaped that one all right, so maybe that’s why I’m not really worried about it.”
Limiting how many students are on each bus — even on full-sized buses — is a key challenge.
Decreasing the number of students too much raises concerns about having enough buses, Pschigoda said.
“How can that even work?” she said.
More parents might have to drive their children to school, she said.
Pschigoda usually drives a smaller bus for CHUMS. While maintaining social distance might be more challenging, there are advantages.
“I like the short bus,” she said. “It keeps them more self-contained.”
Working on a big bus can make it more difficult to keep an eye on children, even if there might be fewer students than normal.
“It’s pretty hard to monitor,” Pschigoda said.
Lovelady isn’t worried about children behaving on buses. Her 5-year-old grandson, who sometimes stays with her, has health issues, so he and his 8-year-old sister understand the importance of health precautions.
“Neither one has issues wearing the masks,” she said. “He especially knows he can’t touch anything or go anywhere without it, and she does, too. Neither one messes with them.”
Lovelady lives near Marion Elementary School, so her grandchildren don’t ride a bus when she has them. Even if they did, Lovelady said, she would not be concerned.
“They’re so anxious to get back to school that they’re going to do whatever it takes to be able to go to school and see their friends,” she said. “They’ve been out of school so long. We’ve talked to them, and their parents have talked to them to explain what the virus was.”
Handling buses was an issue Hillsboro superintendent Max Heinrichs brought up at a July 20 meeting of Marion County school superintendents.
One factor in districts’ favor is that there is no shortage of communicators. In addition to the July 20 meeting, which included principals, district transportation directors have been meeting to find a solution.
Governor Laura Kelly issued an executive order last week that everyone in schools must wear masks or face coverings, have six feet of distancing except in classrooms where masks are worn, sanitize every hour, and have daily temperature checks.
Administrators and county nurse Diedre Serene have expressed confusion over whether county commissioners might have authority to adopt regulations that are more or less restrictive.
Figuring that out is nearly impossible since it also is being debated at the state level.
Actual enforcement of orders, which can include civil penalties of up to $2,500, appears to be up to county or district attorneys or the state attorney general, according to Kansas Association of School Boards.