HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - School buses are back on the road in Henrico County, but COVID-19 means a new focus on protecting students on-board.
It has been one month since some of Henrico’s youngest learners headed back to the classroom for in-person learning.
However, getting to and from school looks a bit different and certainly less crowded.
“That average is about 24 students per bus,” said Jim Ellis, Director of Transportation for Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS). “Elementary wise, where we’re usually doing 60 per bus - that’s a big difference.”
Social distancing means most students get their own seats. However, siblings are allowed to sit with each other.
“The seats have an x where we can’t put the student because we zig-zag,” said Brenda Riddell, an HCPS bus driver.
According to Riddell, there have not been any major issues with students following the rules.
“The elementary kids listen well; I wasn’t expecting that,” Riddell said. “The biggest problem I have with that is sometimes when they get on the bus they’ll have their mask under their nose… and want to sit with their friends.”
That is not possible though since there is assigned seating on each bus to allow students to board from back to front.
“So far so good,” Riddell said.
According to data from HCPS, 66% of Henrico in-person learners are riding the school bus at least once a day; a larger number in the afternoon. For Riddell, who has worked for HCPS as a bus driver for nine years, this year is certainly different.
“We’ve got a big job; it’s a lot more than just driving a bus,” she said. “We do what we can to keep the kids safe as well - make sure they have their mask on and sit where they need to sit.”
A thorough bus cleaning is also a regular part of the job.
“We have an electrostatic sprayer and after each run, we start from the back and we spray that bus,” Riddell said. “We make sure we get everything we need to get. We also have a bottle sprayer we use for some of the harder-to-get places.”
Each bus is equipped with an electrostatic spray, purchased through CARES Act monies. The cleaning process takes about 10-15 minutes, which is then tacked on to other the daily routines.
“Pre-trip inspections, checklists and so on,” Riddell said.
Despite the pandemic still in full swing, Henrico Schools is looking for more drivers.
“We have over 80 open positions,” Ellis said.
In 2020, Ellis said about 30 full-time employees left their positions, some due to retirement.
“The bigger emphasis has been placed on those who support the full-time drivers,” he said. “We have a lot of part-time drivers that we lost based on them finding other jobs and things to do because they weren’t full-time.”
However, filling those positions has been a bit of a struggle.
“You’ve gotta be child-oriented; you must want to be around students,” Ellis said. “With the pandemic… it was a matter of people coming out, the DMV challenges.”
As a result of the shortage, the transportation department has had to adjust its typical routes, especially for the larger number of elementary school students riding buses.
“We’re working to do more routes, needing more drivers to accommodate that extra need for driving,” Ellis said.
While that could mean more work for those still driving, Riddell is taking it in stride.
“I’m glad to see the kids and the kids are glad to be back,” Riddell said.
Full-time positions start at $14.61 per hour and HCPS provides health care benefits along with sick leave and a VRS retirement plan. Part-time positions start at $13.91 per hour.
“We can’t hire a driver right off the street, it’s usually a month process,” Ellis said. “You go through our pre-training that we provide. You go through the month process to get the classroom portion, then you get out and drive the bus, then drive with students and then we release you. It’s a process, you can’t speed it.”
You are also required to get a special license through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Must enjoy working with students.
- Must have a good driving record (0 to 5+ driver point-balance).
- Before training, you must obtain an instructional permit — a CDL Class B driver’s license with endorsements in A (air brakes), P (transporting passengers) and S (school buses).
- All hires are subject to a criminal background check and child protective services review.
- Must pass a drug test and physical exam.
- A completed application, which includes three signed letters of reference and a good moral character form.
To apply, click here.
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