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Stronger Together: School Services

Part of Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California's Public Schools. Created through the Reopening Schools Task Force that fostered a collaborative process for educators and stakeholders to lend their important voices.

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Updated 28-May-2021



Many LEAs in California operate a school bus program to transport students to and from school. The California school transportation system is the largest mass transportation operation in the state. The system comprises 24,201 public and privately owned school buses, which transport approximately 1,121,857 students to and from school each day.

As the LEAs plan for reopening and decide on their instructional model, transporting students will need to align with the chosen model. Collaboration between the instructional program and school transportation staff will be necessary to ensure students reliant on transportation services will arrive at school on time. Given the complexities of aligning transportation and instructional models, collaboration and further statewide dialogue on strategies and different scenarios will need to occur. It is critical to plan for the safe transportation of students to and from school during this pandemic.

Best Practices

In order to practice physical distancing on a school bus, the seating capacity must be reduced. This may necessitate the use of a seating chart to designate which seats are available for use.

Routing is the responsibility of the transportation providers at local levels. Each LEA or private carrier will need to evaluate the need of the students that are provided transportation. Transportation providers should be assessing their routes now to determine what will work for their individual area.

Loading/Unloading Zones and Bus Stops

LEAs and private carriers should consider whether there is enough space for appropriate distancing at school bus stops and school loading/unloading zones. It is important to inform students, parents, and guardians of steps they must take to be safe during the loading and unloading of a school bus. If the LEA or private carrier are conducting symptom screenings prior to loading and unloading the school bus, the LEA or private carrier must follow their policy or procedures for symptomatic students.

Physical Distancing on School Buses

  • Determine maximum capacity of students for each vehicle while meeting the appropriate physical distancing between students and bus driver while creating maximum distancing between student to student. Student to student distancing can follow distancing practices for the schools as a minimum (e.g., if students sit 3 feet apart at school during the day, bus seating can follow the same distance or further distance).
  • Create a plan for seating based on maximum capacity.
    • Example 1: Seat one student to each seat on both sides of the bus.
    • Example 2: Seat one student to each seat, alternating rows on each side to create a zigzag pattern on the bus.
    • Identify seats that must be left vacant.
    • Seat siblings or members from the same household together.
  • Assign a bus aide to ensure distancing and do symptom screenings.
  • Ensure the appropriate physical distancing at bus stops and while loading and unloading.
  • Prevent students from walking past each other by taking the following measures:
    • Seat students from the rear of the bus forward.
    • Board afternoon runs based on the order in which students will be dropped off. Students who get off first should board last and sit in the front.
  • Load students based on the order in which students will be dropped off. Students who get off first should board last and sit in the front seats of the school bus.


  • Masks are required by federal order while on school buses and other forms of public transportation in the United States.
  • LEAs and private carriers may require face coverings for students at school bus stops.

Vehicle Cleaning

More information on cleaning practices is available in the CDC Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility Guidelines External link opens in new window or tab..

NOTE: Wear disposable gloves to clean and disinfect.


Open windows in school buses and other transportation modes, if doing so does not pose a safety risk. Opening windows just a few inches improves air circulation. It is recommended that at least two windows be opened, since two openings improves air exchange compared to one.

Maintenance Scheduling

Vehicles may have exceeded a 45-day maintenance or inspection date while sitting out of service during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Vehicles need to meet all maintenance and inspection requirements before being placed back into service in accordance with Title 13 CCR 1232 Periodic Preventive Maintenance Inspection External link opens in new window or tab..

Carriers and drivers need to look closely at each Vehicle Inspection Approval Certificate (CHP 292) in accordance with Title 13 CCR 1231 Vehicle Inspection Approval Certificate External link opens in new window or tab..

Carriers and drivers need to make sure the vehicle’s certificate is still valid and that 13 months from the last inspection have not been exceeded in accordance with Vehicle Code 2807 Lawful Orders and Inspections External link opens in new window or tab..

Driver Training and Certification

LEAs and private carriers shall ascertain that all drivers meet licensing requirements before operating vehicles.


Student Meals

A successful nutrition program is a key component to every educational environment. School meals protect the most vulnerable children against hunger. A child cannot focus on learning when they are feeling hungry. School meals boost learning, and studies show that students perform best academically when well nourished. Therefore, ensuring a child has access to healthy and appealing meals in schools is extremely important.

As school food service operations transition from serving meals during unanticipated school closures to serving meals in a blended learning school environment, school districts will need to consider national, state, and local health and safety guidelines. It is important that school districts engage school food service directors in district discussions regarding plans for reopening schools to ensure that students participating in all learning models have access to healthy meals.

School districts will need to consider the resources and flexibilities necessary to transition food service operations to an on-site or off-site student meal delivery system or operate both at the same time. This includes applying for state or nationwide waivers and updating school policies, standard operating procedures, and trainings to ensure compliance with Child Nutrition Program requirements and procuring equipment, supplies, and menu options necessary for meal service.

Considerations for Changes in Food Service Operations
Health and Hygiene Promotion
  • Designate a COVID-19 coordinator.
  • Teach and reinforce hand washing and use of a cloth face covering by employees when near other employees or students.
  • Have adequate supplies for both employees and students including soap, hand sanitizer, and tissues.
  • Post signs on how to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Cleaning and Sanitation
  • Update standard operating procedures for sanitation of school kitchens, cafeterias, food warehouses, and central production kitchens.
  • Train all employees on health and safety protocols, including correct application of disinfectants and maintaining physical distancing.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently touched by students during meal service, including tables, chairs, carts used in transportation, and point-of-service touch pads. Use timers for cleaning reminders.
Meal Preparation
  • Ensure gloves, masks, disposable or washable aprons, and other supplies are readily available and used properly.
  • Promote fresh healthy menu options that are individually plated meals and preportioned produce.
  • If using reusable food service items, they must be handled with gloves and washed, rinsed, and sanitized.
  • Consider how work stations can be reorganized for proper physical distancing during meal preparation and meal service.
  • Adjust employee shifts to minimize number of staff in the kitchen.
Onsite Meal Service
  • Assess whether to serve meals in the classroom or cafeteria or to use outdoor seating.
  • Encourage physical distancing through increased spacing, small groups, and limited mixing between groups, if feasible. Stagger meal times to allow for cleaning between meal services and to serve students in smaller groups.
  • Provide at least six feet of physical distancing between groups or tables by increasing table spacing, removing tables, marking tables as closed, or providing a physical barrier between tables.
  • Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signage on walls to ensure that students remain at least six feet apart in lines or while waiting for seating.
  • Suspend use of share tables and self-service food or drink options including hot and cold food bars, salad and condiment bars, and drink stations.
  • Consider having staff wear masks and gloves while using point of service (POS) touch pads, replace touch pads with a scanner, or have hand sanitizer available.
  • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, at POS and other areas where maintaining physical distance of six feet is difficult.
  • Consider increasing access points for providing meal service.
  • Ensure cleaning of every table between groups of students or meal service times.
Offsite Meal Service (with approved USDA waivers)
  • Offer grab-and-go student meals for consumption at home, including drivethrough, delivery, or curbside pick-up options.
  • Assess whether there are students who are unable to access school meal distribution sites and identify ways to address these gaps.
  • Consider whether it is feasible to continue to use buses to distribute meals to students.
Communication with Students and Families
  • Notify parents and the school community about school meal service and options.
  • Use a variety of communication methods such as social media, newsletters, and school websites.

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Questions:   California Department of Education |
Last Reviewed: Friday, May 28, 2021
Related Content
  • Coronavirus Response and School Reopening Guidance
    Information and resources regarding CDE's COVID-19 response efforts, including the guidance document for safely reopening schools.
  • Stronger Together
    A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California's Public Schools. Created through the Reopening Schools Task Force that fostered a collaborative process for educators and stakeholders to lend their important voices.
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