A surreal Spring Break came to a close for students who attend Gwinnett County Public Schools near Atlanta, but sunnier days are ahead as the regular delivery of meals via yellow school buses has resumed.
The largest school district in Georgia, Gwinnett County began utilizing its fleet of school buses on March 13 to deliver lunch to students near 68 of the 140 school campuses located across the 437-square-mile service area.
Don Moore, the executive director of transportation, explained to School Transportation News that those schools provide free or reduced meals under the federal Title I program for students in low-income families. But as the district closed campuses and transitioned to digital learning amid the coronavirus outbreak, the responsibility of delivering meals into the community fell on his team and the 498 school bus routes they operate.
To meet the challenge, Moore utilized an acronym he learned while serving in the U.S. Army—KISS, or keep it simple, stupid.
“Our goal was to be able to implement the lunch delivery program without reinventing our stops and routes,” he shared. “That way, our drivers drove routes they were used to, and our students went to stops they were accustomed to.”
All students who are ages 18 years old and younger are eligible to pick up meals at each school site between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays, or at the bus stops.
“In Gwinnett County, the same stops service high school, middle school and elementary school students,” Moore added. “By delivering based on our middle school routes, we knew we would service over 98 percent of the students for those schools. Only the delivery time would change. Our goal was to be at those stops between 11 and 12 each day.”
Through March 27, the last day before spring break, Gwinnett County delivered a total of 293,950 meals, 83 percent of them (244,010) via the yellow buses.
Moore said two district staff members, such as teachers and office staff, hand out the meals at each bus stop, while the school bus driver focuses on the safety of the approximately 25,000 students served each day.
The “danger zone” or 10- to 12-foot perimeter around the bus, continues to be a source of anxiety, as children of all ages are crossing the street to and from the stop as well as approaching the vehicle from all angles.
Moore said all bus drivers continue to operate the federally mandated eight-way warning lights and stop arms.
“It is more dangerous than ever since we feed anybody 18 and younger, so kids that are 4, 3 and 2 are coming to our bus stops,” he noted.
Moore said various local food banks, churches and other organizations stepped in during the week of Spring Break to continue serving lunch. When district food delivery resumed on Monday, the district doubled the number of meals being distributed, as students now receive both breakfast and lunch at the same time, Moore added.