Though officials in the state of Minnesota let school districts decide whether or not mask wearing is required inside the schools, public transportation companies don’t have that flexibility.
Many school bus operators are coming across challenges with enforcing mask wearing on buses when students aren’t required to wear them inside the school. Held Bus Service, Kenyon-Wanamingo’s school bus contractor is one of those operators.
While mask wearing at Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools is only recommended, not required, Lorin Pohlman of Held Bus Service, says the U.S. Department of Education’s COVID-19 handbook states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order requiring wearing masks on all public conveyances, including on school buses.
The excerpt also states that “regardless of the mask policy at school, passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, regardless of vaccination status, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in CDC’s order.”
Pohlman looks to build awareness to parents and members of the community with the federal mandate has been in effect since 2020, and applies to everyone across the nation. A letter drafted from the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association says local contractors, school districts, cities, and even the state, have no say in the matter.
Bus drivers across the state have been finding many children aren’t wearing masks on the bus, and oftentimes do not even have a mask with them when they board, according to the MSBOA. While providing masks to students adds costs for bus companies, as they are spending their own money to purchase masks with no help from school districts of the state, MSBOA states bus drivers are also put in a legal predicament. If they do not enforce the mask policy, they could potentially be held legally liable.
MSBOA also states the Department of Homeland Security recently announced that “any passenger—including passengers on a school bus—who does not comply with the mask requirement on public transportation may be fined $500-$1,000 for their first offense and up to $3,000 for their second offense.”
MSBOA Executive Director Shelly Jonas said of the 130 companies that the association represents, only a handful have mask mandates in the school.
“We are trying to get the message out that they still need masks on the bus,” said Jonas. “A lot of our members have already gone through thousands trying to provide them for the kids every day.”
As districts all choose their own path for determining mask mandates, Jonas says it becomes a divisive issue as they are told by state patrol to enforce masks on the bus.
Above all, the MSBOA looks for parents to help ease the stress and burden on bus drivers by making sure their children have a mask, and wear it whenever they ride the bus, as they continue to do their best to adhere to the law and work hard to make sure their children get to and from school safely.
Pohlman has found there has been a lot of confusion on this mandate, making it difficult for school bus drivers to properly do their job, while also being the ‘mask police.’
“It’s getting to be a struggle for drivers to monitor it,” said Pohlman. “My job is to drive, not be the mask police.”
Going through every bus route, Pohlman estimates they go through anywhere from 5 to 10 masks per bus, something he doesn’t find acceptable.
“Parents need to have the kids prepared when they get on the bus,” said Pohlman. “Our district is one of many that masks are recommended not required, I’m just looking to build awareness.”