CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - About 5,000 Charleston County students are expected to be riding a bus on the first day of school next week, significantly fewer than previous years.
Typically, 50-percent or about 25,000 of the county’s students ride a bus to and from school, Interim Director of Student Transportation James Lynch said. But since only 25 percent of students are allowed back in person, it cuts down dramatically how many kids will ride a bus to get there.
“I don’t anticipate there to be many kids on our buses,” Lynch said. “We will not overcrowd our buses.”
Under COVID state guidelines, only two students are allowed in each seat and all are required to wear face masks during the ride. If a student violates one of the rules, the bus driver will document the behavior and the school will handle it. Assigned seats will be established after the first few weeks of school.
During the ride, windows and vents on top of the buses will be partially opened for increased air circulation. They are also set to be cleaned and disinfected twice a day, and that’s expected to cost more than $500,000 for the year.
“It is a great example of how much safety costs,” Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy said in July. “$3.50 a bus, and we’re doing each bus twice a day, so there’s $7. We have 400 buses. Multiply seven by 400 times 180 days a year gets you to $506,000 plus.”
The buses are being run by First Student, the district’s new bus company, which took over on July 1 after signing a contract worth more than $24 million. The ousted, longtime provider Durham School Services fought for months before that to win a renewal, and as of July their lawyer said the litigation continued.
Gary Reese Sr. represents First Student in the Charleston area and said Wednesday all routes will have drivers on the first of day school.
“We’re ready. Today was our first day of dry runs,” Reese said. “I’m happy to announce the starting rate has dramatically increased to $19/hour.”
The company offered bonuses for returning drivers and new drivers who had a CDL licenses, Reese said. They’re continuing to “aggressively” hire and train.
All 400 of the county’s buses will be out on the roads on Sept. 8, the first day of school. If any student tests positive for COVID-19 then or any day after, the school district’s contact tracers will work to figure who he or she came in contact with on the bus and follow protocols from there.
The district’s 2020-2021 bus schedules for all grade levels can be found here. A new bus tracking app is also set to launch in October.