How are kids going to get to school safely in a pandemic? Pinellas County School Board members addressed this question Tuesday, navigating how busing should be carried out to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Some bus routes are currently overcrowded, even with a significant reduction in students requiring transportation.
The district, made up of about 100,000 students, released updated school choices at the board workshop. As of Aug. 6, 55.5% of students opted for traditional, brick-and-mortar schooling, 41.4% opted for MyPCS Online, and 3.1% enrolled in Pinellas Virtual School. School starts Aug. 24.
For the incoming school year, the district has about 22,500 students eligible to ride the bus. In a typical year, about 41,000 students are eligible for district transportation, and usually just under 30,000 choose to use it — about 3 out of 4 eligible students, said Clint Herbic, the associate superintendent.
The district has 9,000 bus stops — 1,300 now have no students. During the first couple of days, the district will have bus drivers on reserve in the case of overflow.
“That gives us the ability to adjust our runs to plan for the overflow and for buses that have too many students on them,” Herbic said. “It won’t cover every situation, but it will help us on some of those runs.”
Right now, the district has about 1,000 runs in both the morning and afternoon, and about 50% of those have 22 students assigned — that’s one student per seat. The other half have between 22 and 44 students, meaning between one to two students per seat. There are 63 routes that have more than 44 students, having possibly three students per seat.
The district is looking to balance those numbers, starting with the 63 routes with more than 44 students. The district is reassigning some routes for the next several days until there are more consistent, reduced numbers across all the routes. The district is hoping to rebalance the routes rather than construct new ones.
As far as sanitation, drivers will be provided PPE, but there aren’t plans to install plexiglass barricades to protect drivers. Buses will be wiped down before picking up students, and hand sanitizer will be provided on all buses.