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Knox Co. school bus drivers prepare for rides with new COVID-19 safety precautions

One Knox County school bus driver said it will come down to preparing kids to follow new rules before they step on the bus.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There will be changes for the thousands of students who rely on buses to get them to school each day this year.

Knox County Schools said this year, students and drivers will wear masks on the buses. They will also be cleaned before and after each morning and afternoon drive.

Windows will also remain open, as weather permits.

Almost all of these regulations will fall on the bus driver to implement.

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For thousands of kids across East Tennessee, their bus driver will be one of the first people they see starting their school day.

"I've had some that you carry from first grade all the way through their whole schooling, that's the only way they get to school is by bus," said school bus driver Kreis Baldridge.

Baldridge dives for Gentry Trailways, which Knox County Schools has a contract with for their school bus services.

"For the longest, I considered my job the same as an airplane pilot," he said. "The parents are putting that responsibility on you and they depend on you to get there safely."

Now those safety precautions include keeping kids safe from COVID-19.

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Many school districts, including Knox County, are requiring students and drivers to wear masks on the bus. Knox County will have extra masks onboard if someone forgets to bring their own.

Parents are also being asked to take their children's temperatures and to keep them home if it's over 100 degrees. School staff will not do temperature checks until the child arrives at school.

Siblings should also sit together on the bus, according to Knox County Schools.

As far as social distancing goes, Baldridge doesn't know how that will work.

"How are you gonna practice social distancing on a bus that carries 70 children?" he said.

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Knox County has not finalized how many children will be doing virtual learning, and it's unknown how that may impact bus use.

Baldridge said he thinks bus drivers can handle it, but it may make for a quieter ride since they safely can't check on kids the whole ride to make sure they're following protocols.

"We're gonna have to lay down some rules and regulations that this is not gonna happen and this just isn't a warning, this is the way it's gonna be," he said.

It comes down to preparing kids to follow these new rules before they get on the bus, and that will fall on parents.

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"I don't anticipate really any problems with this at all," said Baldridge. "I just hope the parents and the children understand that it's gonna be different."

Gentry Trailways said they have the same amount of drivers as last year and are ready to get back to school.

Knox County provided them with PPE and "COVID-19-approved disinfectant cleaner."

To read Knox County's school bus plan, click here.

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