This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.
As Colorado schools have started opening their doors to students this fall, and as others plan to do so soon, one more logistical problem districts have had to navigate is how to safely transport masses of students to their buildings.
Like many of the problems school districts have encountered in the pandemic, this is one that can most impact lower-income families, in this case, those who rely on school buses for transportation.
Guidelines to limit the spread of COVID cut the number of students permitted on buses by two-thirds. Often, districts can’t just deploy additional vehicles, even if they had them. Bus drivers have become even scarcer because many fearing for their safety have quit or transferred. And school schedules make it impractical to make too many runs with the same buses.
School leaders worry that if it’s too hard for students to get to school, they’ll enroll in school elsewhere.
In Westminster, the district eliminated busing for high school students.
“We would have to have 46 separate routes to transport the number of kids that we were transporting last year, and that’s just for high school,” said James Duffy, Westminster’s chief operating officer. Last year the district transported about 700 high school students.
Assigning its 20 buses to multiple routes would have meant some students wouldn’t arrive at schools until 10 a.m. The district is also doing half days for high school students, making the scheduling more difficult.
“That became a real equity issue,” Duffy said. “How could we say to the folks in the morning you get transportation but in the afternoon you don’t? So we had to bite the bullet and basically had to eliminate transportation for the high school students.”