Following an Executive Order signed by President Joe Biden, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that any passenger traveling via public transportation must wear a mask while onboard the vehicle and at transportation hubs.
Executive Order No. 13998, “Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel,” states that immediate action must be taken to require mask-wearing on domestic modes of transportation.
A CDC spokesperson confirmed to School Transportation News that the mask mandate includes both private and public school buses, as the “order applies to state and local conveyance operators (public schools), and passengers onboard such conveyances. The order also applies to private school buses because these are conveyances operated for a non-personal, commercial use,” explained Jasmine Reed, a CDC public affairs specialist.
The order states that transportation operators must use their best efforts to ensure everyone on board is wearing a face mask, which includes boarding only those wearing a mask, instructing passengers that not wearing a mask is in violation of federal law, disembarking any persons not wearing a mask, and providing persons with prominent and adequate notice to facilitate awareness of the order, which could consist of posting signs in multiple languages with illustrations on board.
However, the order states that the requirement does not apply under the following circumstances: While someone is eating, drinking, or taking medication for a short time; communicating with someone who is hearing impaired; using oxygen masks on an aircraft; is otherwise “unconscious” for any reason other than sleeping; and when required to verify one’s identity.
The mask mandate also does not apply to anyone under the age of two, a person with a disability who cannot wear a mask or cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a person for whom wearing a mask would create risk to workplace health, safety or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations.
Following the release of the 11-page guidance, the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services released a joint statement urging all school systems to mandate both student and driver face masks while riding in the yellow school bus.
The statement acknowledged that nearly all school bus operations that have resumed transporting students have already been requiring masks and other health protocols and applauds these practices.
“School bus drivers are in direct line of exposure to children when they board and depart the school buses and sometimes to parents who come to the door of the school bus with their children. Requiring all student riders to wear face masks is critical to driver safety and the safety of the children,” said NAPT President-elect Rick Grisham, in the statement.
The requirement went into effect on Monday and is in place until further notice.