State releases school transportation guide for local planning amid coronavirus pandemic

State education officials on Wednesday released a set of bus transportation guidance for local officials to use as they put together fall school plans.

The “core health and safety practices” in the document sent by Department of  Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to superintendents and local school officials includes a requirement all students and staff wear a mask at all times, with exceptions allowed for students with medical or behavioral issues.

Seating will be limited to one student per bench seat, with children from the same household allowed to sit together.

Windows will be required to be open at all times — except for in cases of extreme weather.

Acknowledging the difficulties created by changes, the department suggests local officials consider “strategies such as adding bus routes, staggering schedules, and pursuing a waiver for student learning time requirements if needed.”

DESE also directs districts to make an estimate of overall demand for transportation services heading into the fall and encourage families to pursue alternatives including, walking, bicycling and family drop off at the school.

The department said the guidance was subject to change according to trends with the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts and updated guidance from medical advisors.

DESE said it developed the recommendations in collaboration with, “infectious disease physicians, pediatricians, and public health experts from Massachusetts General Brigham Health System and the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We also consulted with the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center’s Medical Advisory Board.”

Local officials are directed to develop a school transportation plan in line with the guidance to submit with their school re-opening plans due to the state at the end of the month.

— Developing

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