Students are returning to classrooms around the Coachella Valley this month as our summertime desert temperatures remain well-embedded in the triple digits.
For parents with children who ride school buses to and from school each day, concerns about hot buses have long been a reality.
Those who ride school buses at the start and end of their day will likely be in for a cool, comfortable, and safe trip to and from school on their school bus once the air-conditioner catches up.
All three local school districts have made recent gains in acquiring fully air-conditioned buses to transport their students. It hasn't always been this way.
"When we were kids, we got through it," said Kurt Jandt, Fleet Supervisor for the Desert Sands Unified School District. He rode the same district's buses as a child. "When you are riding or driving them, it's it's pretty exhausting by the end of the day," Jandt added.
News Channel 3’s Jeff Stahl spent the summer break contacting our local school districts and looking into how many of their school buses have adequate air conditioning to keep students cooler and safer from the heat.
“One switch controls the whole bus,” said Jayme Perales, a DSUSD bus driver and safety trainer.
Jandt says every bus the district operates has air conditioning which is good news for both Desert Sands students and drivers who have all dealt with our summer sweltering heat.
“Yeah, the morale is better," Jandt said adding, "And you know, it's hot-- 120 degrees and we got 81 kids on the bus. Everyone's sweating, and it’s hot, and they're miserable.”
The Desert Sands Unified School District has several new school buses that entered service this summer. They feature overhead A/C vents that run the entire length of the bus on both sides. So, unlike older buses in the fleet, there's not a bad seat on the bus when it comes to air conditioning vents.
As Jandt remembers all too well, it hasn’t always been this way.
“And I remember because I rode them when I was a kid," Jandt said, "We rode the buses with no A/C. So it was tough.”
This is also an improvement since 2017 when News Channel 3 looked into hot school buses and safety concerns for the students and drivers in them.
At the time, Desert Sands only had A/C systems in the district’s special needs buses.
At the time, a spokeswoman Mary Perry said they understood parent concerns and were working to get new buses with air conditioning while also taking other steps.
"We try to park the buses in shady areas whenever possible," said Perry in 2017 adding, "We always have the windows down during the transportation of the students so there is some airflow."
Here’s the current breakdown:
The Palm Springs Unified School District says all of the 99 buses it contracts out with First Student for student transportation are air-conditioned.
The Desert Sands Unified School District has 102 buses. Perry said in a statement to KESQ News Channel 3, “All buses used to transport students have A/C.”
The Coachella Valley Unified School District says 91 of its 95 buses have air conditioning with two more to be delivered by next spring. The district says its buses travel more than 1.3 million miles a year and transport more than 9,500 students each day, according to its website. A district representative told News Channel 3 all of it's buses used for daily transportation have air-conditioning.
Employees at the Desert Sands school bus yard have also been receiving a batch of brand-new buses this summer break.
“This is one of our new buses we just got in,” said Perales who says turning on the A/C is as simple as flipping an on-off control switch then selecting low or high.
Air conditioning systems for buses aren't cheap at a cost of approximately $30,000 dollars per bus to convert.
”They retrofitted I think six to seven buses with a pump with a whole new A/C system,” said Perales adding that, “about every 18 inches, we got A/C vents coming from the side and then coming directly down.”
There, and around the desert, a cooler ride is a safer ride. “Safer, less, less risk for any type of heat illness,” said Perales.
And buses that, now that they’re more comfortable, can also be used for more field trips instead of renting other more costly rides.
One thing that won't keep your kids cool on the bus is state law. An air pollution regulation CA Title 13 CCR 2480 prohibits bus drivers from idling their buses when they're parked at a school waiting for kids to board, "at or near public and private schools engaged in the education of pupils at or below the 12th-grade level, regardless of fuel type and whether or not children are present."
That regulation has been interpreted to mean bus drivers can't start the engine and turn on the A/C to cool the students who are boarding the bus and taking their seats until 30 seconds before departing the curb.
That often means a hot bus ride for desert kids, at least until the A/C cools the bus down.
See more of our I-Team investigative reports here, or submit your story tip at: I-TEAM@kesq.com.