The decision by a growing number of school districts to go with online-only instruction in the fall has bought time for administrators trying to figure out how to get students to school safely amid a global pandemic.
For those schools forging ahead with in-person instruction, a new report underscores that, for school transportation directors, the first day of school will definitely not mark the last day of planning: The unpredictable, evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic means that no one knows how long their first attempt at solving the student-transportation puzzle will be effective.
The 70-page planning tool and study from the Student Transportation Aligned for Return to School (STARTS) Task Force surveyed state transportation directors, district transportation directors, bus contractors, and superintendents from across the country about their looming concerns and how they made or are making their bus scheduling decisions.
The most significant takeaway from the report is that schools must expect to adjust their transportation plans on the fly as local health conditions change. Schools with relatively low community spread now may face spikes in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks and months. So, schools starting with in-person instruction this fall should begin planning in October for what transportation will look like in the second half of the academic year.
“The continued uncertainty associated with the scope of virus mitigation efforts will demand that transportation operations continue to engage in targeted and systemic planning processes throughout the school year,” concludes the report, a collaboration between the National Association for Pupil Transportation, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and the National School Transportation Association.
The survey found that school districts’ three biggest concerns are: new cleaning requirements for buses, managing seating capacity, and determining whether it was possible to modify buses to provide barriers between students and between students and drivers. In response, the task force identified 27 guidelines to help districts navigate the transportation portion of the complex roadmap for reopening schools.
Formed in May, the task force also sought to tackle questions about which students get to ride buses, how to protect bus drivers and transportation department staff, and how to ensure the safety of students with disabilities who may have difficulty in adhering to the social distancing requirements and masking recommendations outlined in federal guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Photo Credit: Bristol, Va., Public Schools Superintendent Keith Perrigan shows the new seating configuration on the school buses for the upcoming school year. A maximum of 22 students can be on the bus -- David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.