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Rowan-Salisbury Schools asking parents to find alternatives to school buses

Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury School System is asking families to find their own ways to get children to school, if possible.

When classes resume, the district plans to still run yellow school buses as normal on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, but they will be limited to a maximum of 24 students. Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said the allowance of 24 students by the state is an increase, more than double the low end, of the number of students who would be allowed if students had to maintain 6 feet of space on the bus, but there are other issues complicating the bus-riding situation.

Even with thousands of students diverted to the district’s virtual options and only half of students going to school on any given day, Vann said that is not enough to make up for bus capacity being reduced by more than 50% and a worsening shortage of bus drivers.

Before the pandemic, Vann said, there was already a shortage of bus drivers affecting districts across the state. Now, drivers are even more scarce, with many of being older and diagnosed with conditions that increase the risk posed by COVID-19. So, Vann said, some drivers have chosen not to continue this year.

The district will have to run more routes if it can not balance available seats to students, which equates to a greater investment of time and money on transportation, Vann said. Where the district would normally run one route through any given area, it now may have to run three.

Every student who can be transported without a bus helps the district cope with transportation related issues such as reduced capacity and a driver shortage.

Students will also be subject to screenings and temperature checks on buses. The district is requiring students to complete screening questionnaires before they arrive at school along with requiring everyone to wear masks and maintain social distance. These are all steps aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the the state’s guidance is designed to limit risk of transmission, but that it will not eliminate the risk of COVID-19 in schools during a Wednesday press conference.

Cohen also noted about half of the state’s 115 school districts will offer some form of in-person learning beginning in August.

Nearby Kannapolis City Schools will also offer in-person classes mixed with virtual days, though other major districts like Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will begin the year all-virtual.

RSS on Friday is hosting a webinar about a “call to action” on transportation and logistical issues. In addition to transportation, the district is looking for help building and funding outdoor learning areas, help providing childcare for students on remote learning days and additional substitutes.

Vann said there are already some outdoor learning spaces at schools, and the district has learned the ventilation provided outdoors helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. Vann said the spaces would also provide ways for students to get some sun and fresh air during the day.

“We have several plans that we have put together that are already pre-approved,” Vann said. “Some are as simple as some seats out on the lawn on campus, a tent that you could get 10 or 12 students under and some that are more complex like a gazebo or shelter-type permanent structure on campus.”

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