If and when students return to in-person learning, the first point of contact for many will be their bus driver.
Area bus drivers are coming forward, voicing concerns about managing COVID-19 in a confined space with dozens of students.
Employee unions said keeping students and drivers safe could turn into a logistical nightmare.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
“I’ve been doing this for 37 years and I love doing it,” longtime bus driver Mary Palmer said.
She said she wants parents and school leaders in the state to consider their point of view before students hop back on board.
“Social distancing will be very hard,” she said as she walked down the aisled of a bus. “How are we going to do social distance if you normally carry 60-80 students?”
She has plenty of still unanswered questions. Will drivers be required to check temperatures? Will masks be provided for students who do not have one?
“How are we going to have the students keep their mask on?" she asked. “They’re not keeping their mask on and they’re coughing. So how are we protecting one another?”
George Rangel is the executive vice president of Alliance/AFT, representing bus drivers in Dallas ISD.
“There is a rush to open the schools and not a rush to put a plan in place,” he said. “There has not been any clear directives as to how this is going to roll out.”
Rangel said he’s also been in touch with an employee union in Houston, where there is concern drivers would opt not to return to work amid COVID-fears.
“Districts across the state are moving too fast without taking into consideration that you have to have drivers to get to the campuses and that’s a big concern," he said.
Dallas ISD’s spokeswoman said decisions have not yet been made clear when it comes to bus driver protocols given the potential delay in the start of school.
Rangel said they’ve received some indication as to what is being considered.
“They’re expecting the bus driver to take the temperature of the child as they board the bus. If the child has a temperature then the bus driver is to hold the child there until a white van comes,” he said. “We don’t know how long that child has to wait for a white van or do they let them in the bus or keep them outside?”
There is also a concern given that a number of school bus drivers tend to be older.
“A lot of our drivers have underlying illnesses and that has been a challenge in itself,” Rangel said.
Palmer is 61 years old and joins in this concern.
“Majority of us are older people and we got some kind of underlying health issues,” she said.
Palmer said schools should not reopen before there’s a better grip on the health crisis.
She fears contracting the virus that can go undetected in some. But she is also concerned about drivers potentially exposing children to the virus.
“That’s my main concern because I love my kids and I don’t want to give them this COVID,” she said. “They are precious to me. I love my kids so I don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt them.”
NBC 5 reached out to area school districts to ask what their plans are to keep bus drivers and riders safe.
Fort Worth ISD’s spokesman pointed NBC 5 to its Return to Learning plan that lists several steps being taken on school transportation including requiring face masks, asking families to do temperature checks, providing hand sanitizer and requiring it be used before boarding, allowing two students to sit in the same seat as long as they have proper face protection, and spraying disinfectant inside buses at the end of each day.