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'We look forward to this': Virginia Beach students, teachers return to classroom

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Posted at 12:38 PM, Sep 09, 2021

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Before the sun's even up, Brian Black has been inside, underneath and all around bus 703.

He's a school bus driver in Virginia Beach and has been for years. His number one priority is getting students to and from school safely.

As his daily pre-trip safety inspections are done in the bus lot, phone calls roll into the transportation dispatch center.

Area supervisor Chris Sprouse said, "Phones [are] ringing off the hook. They've been ringing off the hook since 5 a.m. They'll probably keep ringing until 8 p.m. once after-school activities are finished."

Executive Director of Transportation James Lash said on Wednesday they had more than 1,000 calls into the center.

"[Our dispatchers] are not only answering the phone, they're answering the radio as well as dispatching maintenance trucks to buses that might not start," he said.

Lash said there were a few hiccups on day one, like pick-up delays because of the driver shortage and maintenance issues.

"We've had a couple students get on the wrong bus, which the drivers were able to rectify that and take them to the right school," Lash said.

From the transportation lot to the schools, the buses have GPS tracking so parents and dispatchers can see where the kids are.

"It's a whole game-changer for us. We can know where the buses live, and so if they're lost, we can help them out. If they've missed a student and we have a parent on the phone, we can pull it up," Sprouse said.

As students scurried into Ocean Lakes Elementary for their first day, Superintendent Aaron Spence noted the changes they'll see this school year.

"Everybody will be wearing masks inside our buildings," he said. "One of the big mitigation strategies for us is to get our students who are eligible the vaccine and get all of our staff and adults who are going to be with us vaccinated as well."

As COVID-19 cases rise nationwide and many schools are forced to shut down, Spence said Virginia Beach City Public Schools has contingency plans in place if someone gets sick.

Related: As Virginia Beach Public School students return, quarantine plans laid out

"So, there's contact tracing and it will really depend on that contact tracing as to who may have to quarantine," he said.

Even with masks and cases of hand sanitizer, the hustle and bustle of the first day brings a welcomed sense of normalcy for students, teachers and parents.

Click here for more Safely at School coverage.