AUSTIN, Texas — As a new school year approaches, Austin ISD has updated its bus safety guidelines based on the latest COVID-19 surge, requiring students and staff of all grade levels to wear a mask on a school bus.
Buses will operate at full capacity this year in order to accommodate every student who will need a ride to school, according to Kris Hafezizadeh, executive director of transportation at Austin ISD. This makes social distancing difficult to achieve.
"So we are using every tool possible to make sure we are able to keep them safe," he said.
Bus drivers will have extra masks available for students who forget to wear one.
While Austin ISD cannot enforce mask-wearing at school due to an executive order passed by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibiting mask mandates, the district can require them on school buses due to the federal mask mandate for public transportation.
"Transportation is one of those areas where we can require masks," said Austin Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde during the District's town hall on Wednesday. "But we wholeheartedly believe all our parents want to do what is best for their child, what is best for all our children and what is best for all our staff members who I know our parents love and adore."
If a student chooses to ride without a mask, bus drivers will not turn them away for safety reasons, Hafezizadeh explained.
"I may jeopardize their safety being by left alone by themselves at the bus stop, so that's not the right way to do it. That's why we ask our families to help us when they come to the bus stop," Hafezizadeh said.
However, if a student does not wear a mask repeatedly, bus drivers can refer the student and their parents to the school's principal where they will discuss the matter further, Hafezizadeh explained.
Exceptions to the mask mandate, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include children under the age of two or a person who cannot safely wear a mask due to a medical condition.
Similar to last year, bus staff will also continue sanitizing each bus every two weeks, creating seating charts for students and keeping windows down, weather permitting, to filter the air.
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