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School Bus Safety Presents Tough Challenge For Schools' Reopening Plans In Allegheny County

ALLEGHENY CO., Pa. (KDKA) -- School districts across the state are working to develop health and safety plans for if students return in the fall.

"I really feel like we have an obligation to try someway to get them back here as quickly as we can, but it may not be Aug. 25," said Penn Hills Superintendent Nancy Hines.

It's a real challenge for school districts across Allegheny County to plan for the return of students and staff amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"As soon as we think we have something we might want to bring forward to our board for final approval, things change, circumstances change," Hines said.

For weeks, districts like Penn Hills and North Allegheny have surveyed parents and reviewed guidelines.

"The challenge is what is safe? What's it look like when we start school in September?" said Roger Sechler, the director of business operations for North Allegheny.

Leaders like Sechler said transportation is a big component of the planning process. For example, North Allegheny has 8,600 students, 2,000 bus stops and 80 buses.

While each bus typically holds 60 students, current CDC recommendations suggest only 14 students per bus. Sechler said that's just not feasible.

"How do you change the environment on the bus? We are looking at what do students and drivers wear. Is it a mask or shields or some other facial protection? What can we do around ventilation? Should we keep the windows open, open the roof hatches to try to keep the airflow and how can we shorten the bus runs? Maybe by consolidating some bus stops," Sechler said.

While North Allegheny plans to seat students by a household with extra cleanings, Penn Hills is considering another route.

"Perhaps being on a larger PAT bus makes me feel better as a parent for an older student," Hines said.

Hines told KDKA that Port Authority buses could be an option for high school students since there are a large number of stops near the schools and in the neighborhoods.

The final decision will be included in the district's recommendation that will be published on Aug. 5.

North Allegheny plans to publish its recommendations on July 22 with a vote by the board on July 29.

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