If the Boston Public Schools (BPS) end up going back in September with a hybrid, in-person model, the good news is the school buses will operate – including the always controversial buses from Charlestown to Boston Latin School and Boston Latin Academy.
However, any such bus ride to school this year will be an adventure full of safety protocols, strict bus monitors and a necessity for creative social distancing.
Last Wednesday, Aug. 5, BPS unveiled its plan for a flexible hybrid or remote choice for parents and students this fall, and while there are hundreds of intricate details, one major complicating factor is the school bus for elementary and middle school students. For the most part, high school students use the MBTA to get to school, and that won’t change under the plan.
The hybrid, in-person model is being stressed as a very real possibility if the science backs it up and it is deemed safe by health experts, but many believe that in the coming days that could change.
For now, thinking about the school bus is every parent’s chief concern, if they intend to use the service.
For Charlestown, one piece of good news under any in-person model is that the Boston Latin School and Boston Latin Academy buses for middle schoolers will not be cut out of the program – which is usually an annual fight right down to the last week of summer.
“BPS plans to continue assigning shuttle buses to accommodate the middle-grade students in Charlestown who attend Boston Latin Academy and Boston Latin School,” said a spokesman.
Meanwhile, all buses will have a much different look. Because of social distancing, school buses will only be able to accommodate about 50 percent of their normal student population. That is one reason that full, in-person learning has been deemed impossible in September, but it will also be a challenge for any hybrid model that brings in only a portion of students to a school.
One of the challenges is safety, and the school bus plan now being proposed has a number of procedures in place that students will find much different.
“The safe transportation of students to and from school is a critical part of any plan that involves a return to in-person learning,” said the spokesman. “BPS Transportation is adapting its transportation processes and procedures to prepare to effectively and safely transport our students to and from school under a range of scenarios this fall, while ensuring the health and safety of our students, drivers, and monitors.”
Some of the precautions in the plan include:
•BPS is prepared to enforce social distancing on buses by assigning one monitor per bus and also assigning seats for students so that they are Students will be assigned to a specific seat on the bus.
•Students will be seated one per bench on the bus; as an exception, household members will be permitted to sit on the same bench. As a result of these seating limitations, each bus will transport approximately half of the usual capacity of students.
•Students who have complex health care needs and/or are mobility impaired will continue to receive transportation services through BPS yellow school buses. Bus drivers and monitors will be provided with training and additional personal protective equipment to ensure the safety of our students and staff during transport to and from school.
•If necessary, BPS is prepared to increase its walk zones for first to fifth grade students from 1 mile to 1.5 miles. Walk zones would stay the same as they have always been for sixth graders (1.5 miles) and pre-kindergarten and kindergartners (1 mile). While still well below the state-allowed 2 mile zone, these expanded walk zones will decrease the numbers of students who require school bus transportation.
All students and staff who ride a BPS yellow school bus will be required to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth. Masks must be in place prior to boarding the bus, stay in place throughout the ride, and remain on while exiting the bus. Students who arrive for bus pickup without a mask will be provided a disposable mask, but continued failures to bring a face covering will be reported to the school leader and addressed at the school level pursuant to the applicable Code of Conduct.
•Buses are being equipped with hand sanitation supplies, and all students will be expected to sanitize their hands before boarding a bus.
•The District is seeking to hire additional bus monitors so as to be able to assign one monitor to each bus in order to ensure masks are used properly and physical distancing is maintained.
•Monitors and drivers will wear appropriate PPE at all times.
•No one other than the driver, monitor(s), and students assigned to a bus may enter that bus. Family members are prohibited from entering buses.
•Buses will be sanitized every evening before the start of a new school day and between the morning and afternoon shifts in order to meet public health standards with regard to the cleanliness of each bus.
•Like all BPS staff, drivers and monitors will be required to complete a home health screening each day before reporting to work at a BPS bus yard.
The BPS plan for re-opening is due to the state this Friday, Aug. 14, in its entirety. BPS stressed this week that there are no final decisions yet made on whether they will be all-remote or have a hybrid, in-person option. That decision, they said, would be guided by public health information.