Busing biggest headache for reopening schools

Busing biggest headache for reopening schools

NORTH PROVIDENCE – As the district has begun to form plans for safely reopening schools amid a pandemic this fall, officials say transportation will be the greatest challenge to overcome.

The plans, due back to the Rhode Island Department of Education by July 17, must consider all scenarios from full distance learning to full in-person learning or some mix of both.

“Transportation is the biggest obstacle we must overcome” for schools to reopen,” said Supt. Joseph Goho.

According to guidance from the state, all students on buses will wear masks except those under age 2 or “anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”

Buses will be scheduled as a “stable group” of students to minimize the spread of the virus. Students will have assigned seats, one per seat unless they live together, and will be physically distanced as much as possible.

Prior to boarding, students will be screened.

The state has also recommended districts identify “other modes of transportation” including other vehicles, contracting with commercial coaches, encouraging carpooling of consistent groups, walking school buses, bike-to-school campaigns and more.

Goho said North Providence is “working very closely with the bus company to see what we can do to be creative,” but “transportation is our biggest obstacle.”

“Unless there is a relaxation of these guidelines, this is the one thing making a return to school insurmountable,” he said. “I just want to be honest that superintendents across the state see this as the single biggest obstacle we have to overcome.”

Beyond transportation, Goho said some of the other guidelines aren’t practical, such as 6 feet of distance between high school students.

“It is not possible at NPHS to maintain 6 feet and it’s not practicable or feasible to add partitions,” he said. Among changes coming, he said the district has purchased vinyl-makers to cut arrows to manage traffic flow next year, and that they’re adding at least one more custodian to sanitize spaces.

“Some of the things suggested by RIDE seem impossible,” agreed School Committee member Anthony Marciano. “Cleaning the buses between runs – did anyone think about schedules, kids being late for school and other issues? Some of this makes no sense to me at all. I can’t visualize some of these things being able to happen.”

Chairman Frank Pallotta said the district is “trying to apply solutions to an unknown moving target” and that the school department will spend “a lot of time and energy developing plans that could change based on the spread of the virus.”

Pallotta said he would like to continue with distance learning at least for the fall to ensure that they’re providing a quality education while putting safety first.

On transportation alone, Pallotta said there aren’t enough bus drivers, monitors or buses to socially distance.

“Is it worth taking thousands of students and staff and placing them in a confined area, social distancing, wearing a mask, continuously sanitizing spaces, setting up quarantine areas and establishing stable groups of 30, restricting classroom, dining and other spaces?” he asked. “Is the additional cost in our operating budget? Can we provide a quality education under these guidelines?”

Goho agreed that there would be “a significant cost going back to school under these conditions.” He promised to keep stakeholders up to speed on the district’s plans.