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When Anne Arundel schools reopen, drivers will enforce COVID safety rules aboard their buses

When Anne Arundel County Public Schools students return to classrooms in the coming weeks, the yellow buses that take them there will be operating at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing.

Students will be required to wear masks while onboard and — except for siblings — seats will be limited to one student per seat. But the enforcement of these safety precautions will largely be left up to drivers, who have been instructed to pull to the side of the road if there is a violation of the coronavirus guidelines, said AACPS Superintendent George Arlotto.

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Some buses will be staffed with aides who can enforce the protocols while buses are en route, but most won’t be, Arlotto said.

“The unfortunate reality is that yes, it’s the bus driver that is left to enforce those rules... They are not to correct the behavior, of course, while they’re operating the bus itself,” Arlotto said.

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“We will ask students and parents to do their best to follow the rules (but) we know we have some students that won’t. That’s just the nature of working with 85,000 students.”

If a student is putting themself or others in danger, Arlotto said bus drivers will stop the bus and address the violation. If the bus driver needs help, they have been instructed to call AACPS transportation staff, which typically patrol the streets during morning and afternoon hours.

The coronavirus pandemic has kept most AACPS students out of classrooms since March, but more teachers are getting vaccinated and administrators are planning to reopen schools for families who wish to return in the coming weeks.

Arlotto walked lawmakers through the hybrid schedule that will allow for two days of in-person instruction per week for students, with two groups of students attending either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. All schools will be closed for cleaning on Wednesdays, and teachers will provide instruction to both in-person and remote students at the same time.

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School buildings will be equipped with sanitizing stations placed throughout schools; cloth masks will be distributed to all staff; face shields and other protective equipment will be available, and electrostatic backpack sprayers have been purchased.

In the event of a positive coronavirus case among students or staff, Arlotto said the school system will follow guidance from public health experts. Each school and building has an isolation room, and they are prepared to follow state guidelines.

“It depends. Every situation and every student or staff member that may test positive or may be a close contact for a positive case is going to be different,” Arlotto said. “It could very well mean that it’s just that adult has to quarantine or just that student or group of students has to quarantine. It could be an entire class, say, an entire fourth-grade class that has to quarantine.”

He said it depends on the spread and the number of related cases in a given building. All cases will be addressed by school contact tracers that are being assembled and trained now.

The school system will continue its free meal service for all families with children under the age of 18 through the end of the academic year, Arlotto said.

Other business

The delegation also voted on a series of bills that aim to change policy for Anne Arundel County residents only.

The body unanimously approved a bill that would require the local liquor board to hire a chief inspector, but they approved an amendment that would allow this position to be part-time.

They also passed a bill that would provide partial refunds to local organizations that applied for a liquor license last year but were unable to use it or were seriously hindered in using it due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They passed a bill that would change the way hotel tax revenue is used and would require Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County to file reports with the Annapolis mayor, city council and General Assembly.

They debated a bill that would enable the Anne Arundel County Council to raise the real estate transfer tax in order to create an affordable housing trust fund. Lawmakers were split in a party-line vote and a motion to provide an unfavorable report to the Ways and Means Committee failed.

These signals of support will help the bills move through the legislative process, but each will still need a full vote of support from both the House of Delegates and the Senate. Delegates and senators of other counties often defer to local lawmakers when bills only affect specific areas of the state, though it doesn’t guarantee passage. This is often called “local courtesy.”

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