School busing will change this year. Here’s how.

Meghan Flynn
A group of Victor Ornelas Elementary School students are reflected in a school bus mirror as they load the bus to head home after the school day during a past school year. Garden City USD 457 begins classes for select grades on Monday.

Busing students to and from school will change slightly for the 2020-21 school year.

Julie Morris, Garden City USD 457 routing specialist, said the changes are due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One change directly related to COVID-19 is masks — all drivers and student riders will wear masks while on the bus, Morris said.

Besides masks, fewer students will be on each bus and there will be only one student to a seat — unless they are family members and the other seats are full — to accommodate social distancing, Morris said.

There also will be seating charts. Morris said students will be required to sit in the same seat every time they are transported on the bus — both to and from school.

Loading will also be different, Morris said. Students will be seated from back to front to keep contact between students low.

“If we loaded from front to back we have a student that has loaded at the front of the bus and now all the students getting on are passing that student,” she said. “We're going to avoid that and start loading from the back so we don't have that contact of students touching other students ... so we're going to load from the back to the front just to keep that student contact down as much as possible.”

The buses will also be sanitized between each ride.

Fewer students are riding the bus this year, Morris said. Typically the district has a little over 2,700 riders.

“Once I have (all of the students routed) we will have about 65% of the riders for this year compared to last year,” she said. “Right now we have a little over 1,300 routed.”

The bus routes have changed because of the lower numbers, but the district is keeping student numbers low on the buses and there are more buses for that purpose.

Morris said students will spend less time on the buses this year compared to last year.

About 45 minutes was the longest a student could spend on a bus on the longer routes, Morris said. Now, the district has it down to about 30 minutes.

The time spent at large stops has also gone down, Morris said. At large stops, loading time is down to five minutes and students should only be on the bus for maybe 15 minutes.

Other than additional buses and less time in contact with students, the routes have changed very little, Morris said.

“Our drivers will typically have their same routes that they did last year,” she said. “There has been a few changes due to the numbers on the buses, we've had to change some of that and the times — we don't need the drivers out there driving 45 minutes with students on there.”

If a student were to test positive for the coronavirus, the school would identify them with a nurse or the Finney County Health Department when they come to school, Morris said.

Charlie Stillian, USD 457 director of transportation, would be contacted. He would contact the driver of the student and would then use the seating chart to identify other students seated around that student, Morris said.

“Then it's up to the health department, the nurse, the school, to notify those parents that were around that student according to the seating chart,” she said. “That's why the seating chart is very important and those students sit in the same seats every day, especially for that instance.”