As area students prepare for a return to school on Sept. 14, whether it be virtual or in-person, anxiety levels are running high. But school administrators and workers are taking it all in stride, with safety at the forefront for a successful opening.
According to Luke McEvoy, spokesperson for the Owego Apalachin School District, approximately 75 percent of this year’s instruction will be in-person, with the other 25 percent being conducted virtually. McEvoy added that whichever method the parent signed up for, they are not able to switch for a period of ten weeks.
“Once they decide, they are locked in for ten weeks,” he added.
But getting children to school is another story.
On Friday we visited Owego Apalachin’s bus garage to get a look at what they are doing to prepare for a safe return to school, transportation wise.
Located right off of North Avenue and towards Turner’s Bridge, Anthony Quaranta, head of transportation for Owego Apalachin, was combing through the Personal Protective Equipment and sanitizers as he prepared to enter one of the buses to install red tape on the seats.
“Safety comes first,” said Quaranta as he applied the tape to stagger the seating inside the bus. Each bus, he noted holds 70 students. With the new restrictions, he noted, each bus will hold approximately 23 students.
For the cleaning of each bus, according to Quaranta, they will pop the seats and scrub them, and all of the filters will be changed. In the end, he added, the bus will be thoroughly disinfected. He also noted that masks are mandatory for students entering the bus.
The daily process, however, will create several new layers of work for the department.
Quaranta stated that the drivers would travel their route, drop off the students, wipe things down thoroughly, and then pick up the next group of students. The buses will be thoroughly disinfected at the end of the day.
“Our goal is to ramp up cleanliness at the end of the day,” he added.
The challenge, for Quaranta and school administrators in general, has been lining everything up.
With 30 bus drivers and 30 routes, however, Quaranta said the drivers are prepared for the challenge.
“So far, all of our drivers are coming back, and we also have substitute drivers that are very dedicated,” added Quaranta.
As for the arrival at school for those that selected in-person, area residents were quick to respond with their selection.
McEvoy noted that a survey was sent out three weeks ago, and that 95 percent responded in a timely fashion.
“We needed to know who was riding,” said McEvoy, “and then take the data and establish the routes.”
Once in school, strict protocols will be in place for students as well. The school, however, is continuing to work on things, and will be working closely with the Department of Health once the students return.
“We will be doing testing and tracing as needed,” said McEvoy, “and are hopeful for a safe return.”
We will have more on school openings in the coming weeks, and as we near the Sept. 14 opening. We will also be reaching out to other schools in Tioga County as their planning continues.