STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — New York City, which recently released its reopening plan for public school students to return to school buildings in the fall amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, has acknowledged that the ongoing health crisis may inhibit the city from providing bus transportation for the full number of students who typically use the service.
“It is widely recognized that the current pandemic presents unique challenges to providing school bus service, and that it may not be possible to provide service in all cases,” according to the plan.
The city public school re-entry plan was submitted to the state last week, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce approvals of reopening proposals on Friday for school districts across New York.
The city Department of Education (DOE) said that it will attempt to provide transportation to all students, to the extent possible, but limitations related to the pandemic may alter its ability to do so using traditional school bus service.
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“Because of this unique situation, it may not be possible to provide transportation through a conventional mode such as a bus, and may require other modes to be employed to satisfy transportation needs, such as MetroCard,” according to the plan.
ALTERNATIVES TO SCHOOL BUS
As a result, the DOE is encouraging families to plan to provide their children with transportation to and from school, whenever possible.
“In recognizing the impact of this pandemic, the DOE is recommending that families, wherever possible, help reduce the number of students in need of busing by either transporting their children to school on their own, walking, or biking,” according to the department.
For now, it remains unclear as to how many students the DOE will be able to transport via school bus and which students will be eligible for that service, leaving parents in a holding pattern as they attempt to plan their child’s return to school.
When asked when such a decision would be made, the DOE could not provide a specific timeline, simply noting that parents will be made aware of their child’s transportation options prior to the start of school, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 10.
“Families need details to make informed decisions, and they will have that for transportation before the start of school. We will make sure everyone understands the various options available to them. We are putting health and safety first and we are looking at all options that comply with federal, state, and local safety and distancing guidelines,” said DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson.
In terms of the safety protocols that the DOE has implemented for anyone riding on a school bus, all students will be required to wear an acceptable face covering at all times, including while entering, exiting and while seated.
In the event a child doesn’t have a face covering when attempting to board a bus, face coverings will be available onboard.
Students must maintain appropriate social distancing while on the bus, unless they are members of the same household.
These social distancing requirements will only allow school buses to operate at approximately 25% of their usual capacity, with seating on the buses clearly marked to designate which seats may be used and which seats will be blocked off for social distancing.
Parents have been advised to screen their children for symptoms prior to boarding a bus to make sure they are well enough to board and attend school. Bus drivers will not be responsible for screening passengers, placing the onus strictly on parents.
All DOE school transportation vehicles will be cleaned and disinfected daily using cleaning and disinfection protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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With or without air conditioning, face masks will be required in Staten Island classrooms