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School bus drivers asking for extra COVID-19 protections

FILE - This Jan. 7, 2015 file photo shows public school buses parked (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

SALT LAKE CITY – Ben Rowley, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Transportation Local 6226, says many of the school bus drivers they represent in the Salt Lake City School District, are vulnerable to COVID-19. 

“About 50% of our workforce is high risk [for COVID-19] just due to age. Many of our drivers have underlying health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes and heart conditions,” Rowley says. 

He also believes it’s unrealistic to screen every child for symptoms of COVID-19 before they board the bus. Drivers do not have temperature scanners, for example, and cannot be blocking traffic. 

“If the student is ill, we have to load them on the bus and expose the rest of the students on the bus until they get to school. Then, they’ll do a temperature check and do an assessment of the student. But, until we get to the school, that’s an issue,” Rowley says. 

There’s also the issue of poor ventilation on school buses in general.

If his district cannot delay any on-campus classes beyond October, Rowley and other school bus drivers have been asking the district for extra COVID-19 protections. 

Specifically, they have found some clear, Plexiglas curtains that could be hung up in each bus that are both street legal and could offer extra protection to drivers. 

They problem is the price and how to pay for it. 

“It comes down to funding. Those hanging, clear Plexiglas curtains are over $400 a piece. That’s a great concern for us,” Rowley says. 

However, he says the Salt Lake City School District has been receptive to their concerns. He’s also hopeful Congress can pass another stimulus package so schools can buy what they need to keep bus drivers safe during the pandemic. 

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