"We do have a ten-passenger limit."
Many parents of children that ride school buses in our districts were “taken for a ride” on May 20 — myself included.
That morning, I was on my desktop computer and noticed a meme on Facebook that appeared to be a screenshot taken from the CDC website; it read in part: “New CDC guidlines [sic] for reopening schools …. ”
"Wear masks over the age of 2; no field trips, assemblies, or external organizations in the schools; the distance on school buses — one child per seat, skip rows.“
“This is like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” responded Bea in my Facebook group
Underneath the confusing meme that was shared on various Facebook and NextDoor groups, I noticed that the debates were fairly balanced.
I then communicated with our local bus drivers.
“There is no way you can [follow] the social distance [on a school bus],” said Corrie from North County.
“That’s going to be difficult to adhere to with the seating, depending on how many kids ride and how many buses they will have in service,” said “Trisha” a MTS bus driver who requested anonymity due to policy. (Her name was changed in the article.)
“I am a bus driver with 256 kids a day,” Corrie continued, “I make three trips, some kids don’t even get home till almost 6 …. it’s not possible.”
Bill from City Heights has two children that he dropped off at school before the pandemic. In April he considered a full time bus driver job at San Diego Unified School District that starts at $21.22 an hour — with paid holidays, paid sick leave, paid vacation leave, a CalPERS retirement plan and with health/dental/vision benefits for the driver and qualified dependents that’s fully covered by our district.
“I am assuming we will need more school bus drivers if they spread the kids apart on our buses which already seemed at full capacity [pre-pandemic]. Besides bus drivers, we are going to need more buses and use more more gas.”
After reading through the school bus comments and communicating with our county residents, I clicked on the initial Facebook meme that piqued my interest. A popup window appeared in the middle of my computer screen that read “Partly False Information Checked by independent fact checkers.”
I then clicked the “see why” button and another window came up reading: “The information in this post is a mix of true and false statements or it could simply be incomplete. In some cases, the information is misleading. Fact-Check from USA Today Partly False: Fact check: CDC’s guidelines for reopening schools are recommendations, not rules.”
According to a Facebook article posted by Facebook on May 12, besides collaborating “with over 60 fact-checking organizations around the world that review content in more than 50 languages”, they are using AI (artificial intelligence) to detect misleading memes.
In the fact checking Facebook article, it shows how photos and screenshots taken from videos posted by mainstream media, are slightly altered and then re-posted online. On the faux CDC guideline meme post that duped me and many others, there were over 270 comments that went back and forth as this article goes to print; on school bus driver forums throughout the U.S., comments and shares underneath the same meme were in the thousands.
On May 19, the CDC posted an updated list for schools and bus drivers. Underneath the “As a bus transit operator, how can I protect myself?” section, it reads in part: “limit close contact with others by maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet, when possible; consider asking bus passengers to enter and exit the bus through rear entry doors; avoid touching surfaces often touched by bus passengers; use gloves if required to touch surfaces contaminated by body fluids.”
“I am not sure how [school bus drivers] could load from the rear,” said Trisha, the MTS bus driver, “it will probably have to be the front door for them, but I see a need for more drivers and buses to operate safely.
“We are not allowed to leave passengers behind but we do have a ten-passenger limit, and if there is a stand-by bus, they do send it out. One time I had 20 passengers and no back up and I had to proceed.”
“You left the ten, or you loaded all 20?” I asked her.
“I loaded 20, and left two people, but I was instructed to do so. We’ve been pretty good about rear door entry, and it’s up to passengers where they sit, but when I had those 20 people I had people in every seat.”
“Are you fearful when you drive?” I asked.
“I was in the beginning, but I try to stay calm and brave. I took an oath to become a bus driver and that’s what I remind myself when I start to get stressed out.”