Campbell County School District in Gillette, Wyoming, has been through it all, in terms of a COVID-19 outbreak in transportation operations and now vaccine distribution. Transportation Director Keith Chrans spoke with School Transportation News on how the pandemic affected his district and the country over.
Chrans, who is also the president of the Wyoming Pupil Transportation Association, said Campbell County School District has been transporting students all school year, of course with guidelines and protocols in place. He noted that a task force was created over the summer with nutrition services, transportation, principals, and the administration to plan school reopening needs. The task force agreed on social distancing and additional cleaning. If social distancing couldn’t be adhered to, masks were then required.
Chrans said prior to the first day of school, the transportation department sent a survey to parents asking if they would be able to drive their own children to school, in order to further maintain social distancing on the bus. Results indicated that over 90 percent of parents said they would.
“We thought as we started school, we would see less ridership, but we didn’t. We actually saw more ridership,” Chrans said.
He noted that the district normally transported 4,500 students daily, but this school year ridership increased to 5,000.
Listen as Chrans shares more on the School Transportation Nation podcast:
Wearing masks became a requirement for students to board the school bus. In addition, school bus drivers are also responsible for wiping down their school buses before and after each route as well as in the evening. The district also purchased battery-operated electrostatic sprayers that are used on the buses three times a week.
“No ill effects of the chemicals, whether it’s a wipe-down chemical or the sprayers,” Chrans shared, adding that the district also installed hand sanitizer stations in all of the school buses.
Students are required to sanitize their hands as they board. For about half a dozen students who are allergic to the alcohol that’s in the hand sanitizer, Chrans said the district provides an alternative version.
When the weather was nice in Wyoming, windows were left open for ventilation. However, Chrans said he doesn’t want to lose heat during winter. The district added an additional filter to bus heaters by fitting a home furnace filter to the existing bus heater screen.
The transportation building itself also has strict regulations when it comes to safety protocols. Staff is required to wear masks at all times, and a punch-card time clock was changed to an RFID card reader to eliminate touching any equipment. Also, before entering the transportation building, thermometers located at each doo take staff body temperatures.
This was working well, until Oct. 15., Chrans said. Then, the transportation department went through about a month of 40 positive cases throughout transportation. The department would learn that somebody tested positive, then contact trace that person and quarantine who was in close contact.
“It was very tough for that four-week period,” Chrans explained. “Everybody crossed over duties for driving.” He added that they do require all department employees to maintain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), so that helped.
“We also combined a few routes, and that’s how we got through it, is by a lot of teamwork,” Chrans continued. “A lot of participation from not only our drivers, but we even had our administrators, our superintendent he offered to drive where he could, in a non-CDL vehicle.”
COVID-19 Hit Home
In January, Campbell County School District had a close call with one of their own. A long-time transportation employee who retired in 2018, Vicki Wood, 71, was released from the hospital. A local article stated that Wood spent 54 days in the hospital with COVID-19 after being airlifted there on Nov.7.
Transportation Director Keith Chrans said she was the district’s training coordinator for about 15 years. He said when they heard she was coming home, one district employee decided they should do something to show their support. So, the district hosted a parade down her street, in which 50 buses and about 100 staff members went down her street to show their love and appreciation.
Meanwhile, the purchasing of these new technologies was made possible with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. Chrans said the federal funding not only paid for dividers between tables and desks in the classrooms but also for the cleaning equipment transportation needed, and overtime for employees during that four-week stretch of driver outages.
If more funding is made available to transportation, Chrans said he and staff are looking at the possibility of adding Wi-Fi hotspots to buses. He said they would park the school bus in a neighborhood where kids are conducting distance learning but don’t have adequate Wi-Fi service in their homes. Depending on how long the social distancing guidelines last, he said he is also considering installing barriers between the students and driver.
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However, the district might be off to a better 2021, as Wyoming school districts were put nearly at the top of the vaccine list, Chrans explained. As of early this month, the district went through the first round of vaccines and 20 percent of transportation staff opted to take it.
He said school bus drivers have expressed increased security in knowing the vaccine is available to them. Chrans added that regardless of the vaccines in place, masks are still required as students aren’t eligible yet.
In conclusion, Chrans said the COVID-19 virus has made people more aware of other’s bubbles, which he confessed could be a good or a bad thing. He noted that it does create more distance and less human contact. But he added that it also forces people to think about procedures and cleaning a lot more, which creates a safer and more efficient workplace all around.