School

Sodexo employees and school personnel load meals onto busses. Each bus is provided with numerous food and drinks to be delivered to children on the bus driver’s route.

Transportation has proven to be one of the “greatest logistical challenges,” for Halifax County Public Schools, according to transportation director Dwight Elam.

Currently, bus drivers have teamed up with cafeteria workers to deliver meals while also providing instructional packets, but changes are in the works.

With the exception of special education students going back next week, there’s currently no specific date of when other students will return to class.

Whenever students — likely preK-third grade in a first wave — do return to in-person instruction, it will no longer be feasible for county schools to send a midday bus run to deliver meals and instructional packets, and parents are being asked to bring their students to school, if possible.

This was part of Elam and director of secondary instruction Scott Worner’s presentation to Halifax County School Board when they met Monday evening.

“Student transportation is the lynchpen to successful reopening of school and has proved to be the greatest logistical challenge. In order to have a successful reopening, we are asking the help of our parents by asking them to transport their children if they are willing and able,” said Elam.

The school system would like to see students return to their buildings while offering transportation and meals, according to several school officials, and are at the same time, trying to follow Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines, Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education guidelines — that are often changed and sometimes reversed.

Originally, the CDC required that all students be screened before getting on the bus, but has since reversed that decision.

The CDC, Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education require students who are being transported to and/or from school on a school bus must wear a mask. And per their guidelines, only one child is recommended per seat.

The school system has 66-passenger buses and 77-passenger buses, which on average has about 22 seats available per bus.

With a total of 114 school buses, that totals 2,508 seats available. The school system also has special education buses and cars for special education students that result in up to 45 seats.

Also even though the CDC reversed its decision to require temperature checks prior to a child entering a school bus, the school system attempted to find a way to continue to do that.

Three options were considered using the help of paraprofessionals to check temperatures, including having paraprofessionals drive to the bus location to catch the bus; have the bus drivers pick up paraprofessionals from each school each morning; or have bus drivers park buses at the schools.

None of these options were appealing to both bus drivers or paraprofessionals, and proved to have logistical challenges, according to Worner.

He explained that of the over 100 paraprofessionals in the school system, he anticipates nearly 30 to 35% of these individuals “have or will” request accommodations to be released from the assignment.

Therefore, the school system is recommending to no longer require students be pre-screened by school personnel prior to entering buses. The transportation director considers having the bus drivers complete temperature checks to be a safety hazard.

Funding is another consideration the school system has had to look at with having the midday run for providing meals and instructrional packets.

With needing two bus drivers, one for driving and one assisting, and transporting meals and packets for roughly 2,931 miles a day, it’s costing the school system $16,318 per day.

In the first 15 days, it has cost the school system $244,770.

The school system also currently offers meals for pick up at Cluster Springs Elementary, HCMS, Scottsburg Elementary and Sydnor Jennings Elementary.

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com