Slow, steady roll toward MCPS buses carrying students back to school

The superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland says he is confident most students will willingly wear masks on school buses, when pandemic conditions improve enough to allow in-person learning.

In a virtual meeting between the Montgomery County Board of Education and Service Employees International Union Local 500, representing bus drivers, food service workers, maintenance staff, paraeducators and office and administrative staff, discussions focused on steps being taken to try to ensure safety when in-person learning returns.

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said he has been impressed “by the level of seriousness with which they are taking this pandemic situation,” when asked what would be done to ensure that students were willing to wear cloth masks on buses.

Smith said students are willing to be part of the solution: “I think we all see that, if we’re out in the community at a grocery store, we see whole families with masks on.”

Bus drivers will have the weight of school policy behind them in ensuring students wear masks on buses.

“We will have protocols for our bus drivers, just like we do in non-pandemic times,” Smith said. “They are very skillful at working with students in bringing about the kind of behaviors we need and want.”

Todd Watkins, director of the school systems’ transportation department, said guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be followed.

“They suggest a student in every other seat on a school bus, and that’s how we get to the number of 11 or 12 on our buses,” Watkins said. “Of course that number would go up if we have students who live in the same household, or share the same day care.”

Asked about buses for special education students, which are configured differently and also include equipment to secure wheelchairs, Watkins said the strategy will be similar. Aides who ride the bus to assist students will count in the available seating slots.

“We’re going to leave the seat behind the driver open, so there’s not a student so close to the bus operator,” Watkins said. “All students must wear a mask on the bus, unless an [Individualized Education Program] team has decided that, because of a student’s disability, it’s not advisable” to wear a cloth mask.

Montgomery County, like most counties in the region, will re-evaluate later in autumn whether distance learning will continue into the school year’s second semester, in January 2021.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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