RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With hundreds of thousands of students across central North Carolina going back to in-person classes Monday, there are a variety of concerns including traffic, COVID-19 and bus driver shortages.
Drivers will definitely want to give themselves a little extra time heading to school or work today as students, parents and other drivers get back into the school commute routine.
In Wake County alone, nearly 91,000 students ride the bus and the county has more than 625 school bus routes.
With that many students and bus routes, it’s extremely important for other drivers to pay more attention in school zones and to remember that state law requires drivers to stop for school buses. The fine for passing a stopped school bus in North Carolina is $500.
In Wake County, the first buses left for their routes around 5 a.m.
Aside from the traffic, another concern right now is COVID-19. The school year begins after weeks of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and heated arguments over whether face coverings will be mandated in schools.
Over the last month, some central North Carolina school systems have seen contentious disagreements over masking requirements. Several educational systems flipped their positions on the masking issue — with all now requiring face coverings indoors, at least in some fashion.
Some parents have still chosen virtual learning, although controversy over that in Wake County has parents still hoping to enroll their children despite a deadline that was in May — when progress was seen against the pandemic. About 10,700 students are enrolled in the Wake County Virtual Academy.
The Wake County Public School System said they will have COVID protocols on buses that will be similar to what was in place last school year.
That means deep cleaning buses between each route and forcing students to mask up – whether it is on the bus or at the bus stop.
While kids do have to wear a mask, they will not have to practice distancing. That means upwards of 70 students might be on a bus at one time.
The return to classrooms could also be impacted by a shortage of bus drivers. Weeks ago, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board approved $2,000 signing bonuses for newly-hired drivers when the district was about 30 positions short.
Wake County Public Schools said it still needs to hire nearly 140 more drivers. As a result, you may see different morning pick-up times and longer waits in the evening.