Much like the discussion around 3 feet versus 6 feet of physical distance in the classroom, we are proposing 2 students on a bench because it includes a collection of mitigation strategies working together to keep the students and bus drives safe while they are on the bus. With students wearing masks while they are on the bus, and making sure the buses are cleaned in between runs, and before runs happen every day, we are making the buses a safe environment. The added difference for our bus runs will be the increased ventilation that will happen on the buses with the windows and hatches open that we cannot benefit from in a classroom. The increased cleaning, face masks, and increased ventilation will mitigate risk along with having assigned seats for students while they are on the bus.
The spacing of students is central to the process of planning for capacity. Two students per seat allows for 52 students per standard sized bus. Under this model, we would have adequate space to transport all students (given some route alterations) in a single bus run. We would have students with siblings sit together, and that single seats would be issued to the greatest degree possible. Assigned seating is a part of any plan under consideration.
Should we choose instead to implement a standard of one student per seat, this would reduce the capacity of a standard bus to 26 students. While exact details would depend on the number of students to be transported, we can reasonably predict that a significant number of the buses would need to carry out two runs for each school in order to transport all students to school. The result would be that any students picked up on the second run would arrive at school approximately 30-40 minutes after the first run. This means that the start time of school would have to be staggered or delayed in order for all students to arrive and likewise to depart in the afternoons. It would also result in increased need for students from the first runs having to queue and to move around the school, as well as add to non-instructional time requiring supervision. We would have to either bring on more contracted staff to supervise students for this prolonged arrival, or embed the arrival time in the instructional day, which would result in a decrease of instructional time by 60-80 minutes per day.
We did look into adding buses to the fleet in order to accommodate this, but have learned that school bus procurement has been delayed significantly by pandemic-related plant closures and a dramatic increase in demand resulting from other districts exploring similar plans. Additionally, STA has indicated that there is a significant shortage of licensed school bus drivers, and that they anticipate difficulty in even staffing our existing routes. So, even if STA were able to find buses, it will be very difficult to find people to drive them.
Ultimately, we want to be sure to keep our students as safe as possible. Our position is that two masked students per seat is safe, which means that many of the logistics issues are resolved.