School bus drivers excited, scared as school year approaches

Schools have been shut down for months, and as coronavirus cases slow in some states and surge wildly in others, districts are debating whether on-time reopenings come fall are even possible. And if in-person classes do resume, what role will the venerable yellow school bus play?

The buses may be half-empty, given social distancing concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. Drivers may be required to take students’ temperatures before allowing them to board. Students may be in assigned seats. Drivers may be walled off from students with plexiglass.

The only sure thing for school bus drivers is uncertainty. As school districts nationwide rush to hammer out reopening plans, drivers wait nervously to learn how their jobs and safety will be impacted.

CNN Business spoke with several drivers about their concerns for the upcoming year:

Bus driver Carleth Hnatiuk is concerned about how well students will follow social distancing guidelines this fall.

Carleth Hnatiuk of Bloomfield, Connecticut:

Kids want to talk to us as the bus driver. How are you? How was your weekend? What are we going to do, tell them not to stand across from us? Maybe we need plexiglass by drivers, like in the grocery stores where cashiers are.

I drive a big bus with 50 kids. There’s no way I think they should be putting 50 kids on a bus. They should leave every other seat empty to help with social distancing.

Children don’t know how to keep away from each other. They’re always hugging, talking.

Until coronavirus dies down, they need to give drivers support, a monitor who can make sure the kids wear masks and are properly seated. Drivers can’t be looking in the back every five seconds. Those are big buses and you have to keep your eyes on the road. It’s safety first.

For drivers, right now we don’t know what the future holds. We’re out there in limbo.

Phyllis Pepper believes that students temperatures should be checked before boarding buses.

Phyllis Pepper of South Holland, Illinois:

I’m ready to go back, but I don’t know if the system is ready for us to go back. They probably have a plan on paper, but everything on paper doesn’t work. We need to do a test run.

Everybody is a little leery. We’re scared for ourselves. What’s going to happen?

I’ve heard the district won’t be taking students’ temperatures. They should be taking them before kids get on the bus, so that students and employees don’t get sick. If someone is sick, that means the whole school may need to close down.

I work with special needs children. I don’t know if the masks will stay on a child’s face. Is the child going to take the mask off themselves? We can’t put our hands on a child. That’s against the law. If we’re trying to put the mask back on the child, yes that might be a problem.

Bus driver Darleen Swanson fears that she may infect her family with covid-19 given how many people she's exposed to during her job.

Darleen Swanson of Orange County, California:

I miss being with other employees and the kids. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our kids last year. We didn’t get to see our seniors leave. I’m looking forward to going back and seeing how this is all going to unfold.

Having them sit every other seat with one child to a seat, I’m not sure how they’re going to do that. it’s going to be a trial and error. I have some kids that like to sit three to a row, and some two to a row. How are we going to do that?

Kids are helping each other with homework. You can’t take that away form them. This takes away the learn
ing aspect of some of it. Maybe that’s the last person they see before going home for the weekend, and the child will be isolated.

My fear is getting the virus and bringing it home to my family and something deadly happening to my family. I spend a lot of time with my uncle who is over the age of 65. I spend time with my dad who is 76 years old.

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