As they develop and implement their fall reopening plans, schools are looking into emerging technologies that could help expedite new COVID-19 safety measures.

At Northwest Allen County Schools, the district’s transportation staff has already begun using a new piece of equipment to cut down on the added time it takes to disinfect buses between student routes — and to assure parents their children are safe traveling to and from school with other students.

About six months ago, the department purchased two electrostatic handheld sprayers to quickly disinfect bus seats after morning and afternoon routes. The product, which is produced by Victory Innovations, looks like a cordless, handheld gun with a tank of solution attached to it. It is design to save time and labor, spray less liquid, and cover more surfaces by providing an electrical charge to solutions, allowing them to wrap around conductive surfaces.

“That allows the solution to wrap around and get in the crevices and along the walls, seatbacks, seat bottoms,” Troy Bearman, NACS’ fleet manager, said. “We found it’s a peace of mind, it’s a comfort, it’s knowing that it’s getting to areas that you may not get with the standard cloth and a spray bottle.”

NACS has 89 total school buses. Using the two sprayers, equipped with an undiluted disinfectant solution, transportation technicians can disinfect an entire bus in 3-5 minutes. The solution has a kill time of three minutes and dries in 10-15 minutes.

Bearman said NACS might consider purchasing a third sprayer to make the process even quicker. However, the product is currently on backorder because of the high demand over the past several months. NACS’ transportation department first heard about the technology because Hickory Center Elementary School, one of seven NACS elementary schools, owned one before the COVID-19 pandemic for use in cleaning between classes.

“It works perfectly for the school buses in the fact that it’s lightweight, its size, we can get between the seats working from the back,” Bearman said.

Buses have become one of the more significant areas of concern for county school districts planning to welcome students back to their school buildings in the fall, as many of the drivers are retirees who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. NACS’ school board has already approved a preliminary reopening plan that, if finalized and approved by the Allen County Department of Health, would ask students to wear masks while traveling on buses.

“We’re doing everything that we can to make sure that we’re controlling the virus and it’s safe,” Bearman said. “We’re doing probably the same as or just about the same amount as what parents will be doing at home … so we’re very confident in the product, very confident in the procedure.”

NACS’ transportation department planned to host an in-service for bus drivers. COVID-19 procedures were to be a primary topic of conversation. Tom North, the district’s transportation director, said one of the details to consider is how to train bus drivers who park vehicles at home to properly disinfect their buses. About 20 drivers in the district still store their vehicles at home during the school year.

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