Making the Grade: How new guidelines for school buses would work


MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging a return to in-person learning for the upcoming school year, but getting students there is the first hurdle.

“My kids are really intelligent, they do well in a structured atmosphere,” said Trisha Berry. “Online learning really wasn’t for them. I feel like if we continue with online, my kids are going to fall short.”

Berry is a full-time working, single mom with children enrolled in four different Horry County schools. “I’m a single mom of five, so me driving them every day really isn’t an option,” said Berry.

This past school year, 40 percent of South Carolina students took the bus to and from school. The Accelerated Task Force and the DHEC put together guidelines so kids can ride the bus while trying to limit the spread of COVID-19.

To date, the South Carolina Department of Education spent just under half a million dollars on 400,000 cloth masks for teachers and staff, including bus drivers. The money came from CARES Act ESSER funding.

DHEC recommends buses be cleaned at least twice a day. Guidelines say masks should be made available to students, and districts should supply hand sanitizer.

“They should have masks, there should be proper sanitization before the kids get on and off. They should be in the same seat every time,” said Berry.

To accommodate social distancing, buses are only allowing a maximum of 50-percent occupancy. A typical school bus fits 78 students.

This is a look at DHEC’s maximum bus capacity seating recommendations. Representing a 54% reduction in capacity of elementary students.

DHEC recommends, if possible, increasing the number of buses in use to lower the number of students sitting two to a seat.

News 13 asked if the state would provide more buses to districts.

“It would be a budgetary issue to get more buses and that’s why the possibility of running more routes would do it,” said Alan Walters, state Board of Education member and Accelerate ED Task Force member. “Then, you have to keep in mind trying to find more drivers if you have more buses.”

Walters said districts are trying to beef up their substitute bus drivers in case their regular drivers get sick.

But Marlboro County School District, like many others across the state, is facing a bus driver shortage. “We ended short of bus drivers, so we’re going to start short of bus drivers,” said Herbert McNeil, Chief of Auxilary Services, Marlboro County Schools.

With more routes, officials said schools may have to modify their start and dismissal time.

“In Georgetown, where I am, there are some rural areas where bus routes can run an hour or more. It may not be feasible to try to run two routes through there so you may have to adjust times,” said Walters.

That could create a problem for working parents such as Melanie Rosario whose two children have no choice but to rely on transportation.

“The staggering times make me nervous because there are two of them and two different buses. I think the whole school situation being up in the air is a little nerve-racking,” said Rosario.

Meanwhile, more parents may end up driving their kids to school if possible. Districts sent out a survey to parents ahead of the school year. As of June 15th, a quarter of Marlboro County parents responded to the survey, and of that, 86 percent said they will drive their kids to school.

That information is crucial to districts as they work to finalize plans.

“We’re all going to have to work together and be patient because it changes day to day,” said McNeil.

The number of afternoon bus riders:

Transportation data on the number of afternoon bus riders: South Carolina Dept. of Education.

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