25 Investigates: State ‘clarifying’ rules that ask school bus drivers to screen students for COVID-19

State 'clarifying' rules that ask school bus drivers to screen students for COVID-19

BOSTON — School bus drivers told 25 Investigates that they’re worried about becoming schools’ first line of defense against the coronavirus. New state guidelines ask bus drivers to flag COVID-19 symptoms for students before they get on the bus.

Meanwhile Massachusetts officials are ‘clarifying’ some of those very guidelines.

“I’m not a nurse, I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell how somebody else’s kid is feeling if they’re sick,” said Diana Hryzan, who has been driving a school bus for Dudley-Charlton schools for more than three years.

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She told anchor and investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh that she's very concerned about new guidelines for school buses that assign a whole set of rules if kids return to school this fall.

Paulette Civitarese has been driving for Sudbury schools for 21 years.

“I’m not trained,” she said. “It would be irresponsible of me to evaluate every child, whether or not they’re sick.”

Those drivers, who are members of the Teamsters Local 170, said it's one of the most concerning rules within the 15 pages of school bus guidelines the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education [DESE] released in July.

Within the guidelines there’s a section titled ‘Symptom Screening.’ It says families should screen their kids at home. But bus drivers or monitors should be ‘trained to observe students upon entry.’ Also, symptomatic kids ‘should not be permitted to enter the school bus,’ if a caregiver is present to take them home.

“I wouldn’t put any of these kids at risk. I wouldn’t put myself at risk. I wouldn’t put my family at risk. It’s just impossible for me to do it,” Civitarese said.

“It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a fight because a lot of parents are going to be like, ‘nope, it’s just allergies. Oh no, they’re fine,’” Hryzan said.

According to the guidelines, if a caregiver can't take the sick student home, they should be kept away from other students and where they sat needs to be sanitized.

"I don't know what the consequences are. If a child comes on my bus and is sick, and I just put them in the line of danger. It's a huge risk for me," Hryzan said.

25 Investigates has been examining school bus guidelines for several weeks and hearing from drivers who fear they won't be able to pull off all the rules.

They require:

  • Masks for all staff and students on the bus, regardless of age. Exemptions for students due to medical and/or behavioral reasons.
  • No more than one student per bench, alternating sides in each row. Children from the same household may sit together and in closer proximity.
  • Windows remain open at all times unless extreme weather.
  • Assigned seats

The guidelines suggest districts “consider adding a bus monitor.” But, monitors are not required. And those drivers aren’t sure how districts will pay for them.

“I miss my job,” Civitarese said. “I would love to go back to work, the way things are going now…we don’t know.”

25 Investigates reached out to DESE about the bus drivers concerns. The department pointed to us a list of frequently asked questions.

They say drivers won’t have to screen students before they board the bus only “flag” symptoms they notice. A DESE spokesperson told Kavanaugh the department updated the following guidance just this week:

  • “What is the role of the bus driver or bus monitor in identifying possibly symptomatic students?”

However, that FAQ does not match what is stated in the guidelines on Page 8:

  • “Symptom screening, checking for symptoms each morning by families and caregivers, before students arrive at the bus stop, is critical and will serve as the primary screening mechanism for COVID-19 symptoms. Bus drivers or bus monitors (if applicable) should be appropriately trained to observe students upon entry. If students appear symptomatic, and a parent/caregiver is present to take them home, they should not be permitted to enter the school bus. If a parent/caregiver is not present to take them home, bus monitors should refer students who may be symptomatic to the school healthcare point of contact immediately upon arrival.”

Kavanaugh reached out to the Local 170 about the updated guidance. They say they are concerned words are changing here, not what’s being asked of them. 25 Investigates will continue to monitor the evolving guidelines.

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