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Texas Advises School Districts That Barriers Are Prohibited on School Buses

The Texas Department of Public Safety is reminding all state school districts that installing shields or barriers that separate the bus driver from the students, and students from each other, are prohibited.

The statement issued on May 29 discusses the various solutions school districts and transportation departments have recently been considering to keep both staff and students safe against the spread of exposure of COVID-19, as they are transporting students again to and from school post the pandemic. Summer school started on June 1, and districts can choose to transport students via the yellow school bus.

The new ideas include installing a plexiglass driver shield or enclosure that would separate the driver from the students.

The statement noted that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) prohibit the installation of any such barrier or shield on school buses. Texas DPS reminded districts that the Texas School Bus Specifications state that all public and private school buses in Texas that are used to transport children to and from school and school-related events “shall meet all applicable FMVSS.”

TAPT shared with School Transportation News that the guidance refers specifically to FMVSS 222 on school bus passenger seating and crash protection. Texas DPS and TAPT representatives consulted with Blue Bird Corporation, IC Bus and Thomas Built Buses, which determined that the shields would violate the standard.

“[T]he Texas School Bus Specifications mandate that compliance with all applicable FMVSS must be maintained, so even school districts are prohibited from installing any shield/enclosure, barrier or any other type of material that has not been certified as compliant with FMVSS,” the statement concluded.

The guidance also states that all manufacturers, distributors, dealers and motor vehicle repair business, etc., are prohibited from knowingly making inoperative any FMVSS-required safety systems that are installed on a motor vehicle.

David Uecker, director of transportation for Hutto Independent School District, located north of Austin, said at one time the district did look at the possibility of erecting a barrier. But it quickly nixed the idea.

“We are not going to alter the bus. If we do anything, we are going to alter the driver’s equipment, possibly [providing] a face shield for the driver,” Uecker explained. “Rather than shielding the bus, we would shield the driver with something that is clear, transparent, and that does not affect their vision at all.”

However, he added that curved face shields could produce glare that could distract or even blind the driver. “It’s not a perfect world,” he added.

As Nathan Graf, the general manager of transportation for San Antonio ISD, previously told STN that his staff is planning to leave empty the two seats immediately behind the driver to create distance.

Meanwhile, despite the Texas regulation and as STN previously reported, an Ohio bill seeks to allow an “owner of a school bus to install a protective barrier around or near the operator’s seat of the school bus for purposes of providing protection to the operator from infectious disease.”

As of this writing, the bill remains in the House.

Editor’s note – The Texas Department of Public Safety was incorrectly referenced in an earlier version of this story.

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