School superintendents waiting word from governors on bus transportation guidelines
How can we transport students from their homes to school while keeping them safe from the COVID-19 coronavirus?
That's the question area school districts and superintendents are trying to answer. They're making plans, but they're more of a work in progress with a wait-and-see approach. Why? They're awaiting word from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on what guidelines or recommendations they'll place upon school districts.
Those announcements are expected to come June 30 or July 1.
One of the challenges districts face is bus transportation. Will we have full buses or will there be one student per seat or one student per every other seat? The answer will drastically affect the plan districts have to put in place.
Limiting the amount of kids on a bus will impact the amount of bus routes, the length of routes, staffing drivers, and staffing teachers and administrators at the schools earlier before schools begin and later after school ends.
"If we are mandated to have one quarter, one third populated buses, our routes are going to take an extremely large time," Bedford Schools Superintendent Carl Shultz said.
Think of it this way. If a school bus has 13 rows of seats on each side and you had two kids to a seat that would allow 52 kids to be on a bus. Some districts allow three kids to a seat. That would increase the capacity to 78 kids. However, if COVID-19 restricts require districts to have just one kid per seat, then only 26 kids could be on the bus. If restrictions dictate one kid per every other seat, that would mean just 13 kids on one bus.
"If we have to go to one child per seat, we have four buses that we need to take kids to Frank Elementary. Four buses,” Perrysburg Schools Superintendent Tom Hosler repeated for emphasis. “If we have to do one per seat it's going to take ten and a half buses to do that job. If that's required of us then we can't do high school busing."
High school bus drivers would be pulled to focus only on elementary schools. Ohio state law requires busing students in kindergarten through eighth grade but not high school. Perrysburg, which has seven schools, 5,700 students, and around 50 buses, is also considering expanding the radius of the walk area to two miles. It's currently at one, but if it goes to two miles, students who live within two miles of their given school would be required to walk to school or be a car rider.
Another aspect of transportation is finding and hiring enough drivers.
"Bus drivers are not growing on trees. They are difficult to find. You have to do state testing to be certified. It's difficult to even get substitutes," Shultz said.
Hosler brought up another concern.
"Sixty percent of our bus drivers in Perrysburg are 60 or older. A lot of them are retired or do this on the side. We're really worried about making sure we can keep them safe," he said.
Both superintendents said purchasing more buses is not an option. It's not financially feasible considering states have already decreased the amount of school funding each district will receive for the upcoming school year. Other modifications are being considered. One includes the use of partitions on buses, similar to the ones used in bars and restaurants. Bedford could install those on each of its 40 buses, but Shultz explained that he doesn't want to put forth that directive until he knows officially that would be allowed, according to what recommendations are made by the state.
Superintendents have plans in place. They are just not finalized. The unknowns of the coronavirus have created unknowns for states, school districts, parents, and students. Everyone is just hoping answers come soon.