Under any in-person school plan, buses are a problem

As school districts finalize their reopening plans for the start of the school year, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that schools will need to find more buses at some point, even when they consider hybrid reopening plans.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education required districts to develop three reopening models: in-person schooling, a hybrid model blending in-person and remote learning, and a fully remote model. A final decision is required by Monday.

Across the state, districts of varying sizes are struggling to figure out what transportation for students will look like. Ahead of a public meeting scheduled for Thursday night, school district documents indicate Worcester may start classes remotely for a period, then switch to a hybrid model if COVID conditions allow it.

Worcester has two models for its hybrid plan, one that would allow half of students and another allowing one-third of students back into school. Even with those reduced numbers, transporting students to school would be almost impossible, said Superintendent Maureen Binienda, citing the state’s social distancing requirements.

Boston superintendent Brenda Cassellius said this week that the district cannot return to a full in-person model because of the need to have fewer students on buses. The Boston Globe reported in July that it’s unclear how the district will use its 721 buses to transport 24,000 students to 235 schools.

Acton-Boxborough Regional School District is recommending an in-person-focused hybrid model for all students. Its fleet of 84 buses will now limit the load to 26 students, or one per seat with each student three feet away from other students.

The district had previously mentioned using 32 to 33 buses at multiple times to transport over 4,000 students as part of a study of delayed school times. Number crunching shows that the buses could only transport 858 students safely in one round of busing. It would take five trips, not including the time it takes to clean each bus after students leave, to get all the students to school. It would take three trips to transport students if the schools opened at 50 percent capacity.

In Springfield, where 7,600 students typically take buses daily, a hybrid model developed by district officials proposes assigning the majority of students into two groups: one to attend class in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the second group to attend class Thursdays and Fridays. Last year the district put out a bid to contractors asking for 72 buses. Even with 50 percent of students taking the buses, the buses would have to make three trips to get students to school safely.

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has been strongly urging local schools to open in person this fall, pushing back against state teachers’ unions who are calling for the school year to begin remotely.

What’s increasingly clear is that getting to yes on in-person learning will not only require progress in dealing with COVID-19 and buy-in from teachers, but solving difficult transportation issues as well.

SARAH BETANCOURT


FROM COMMONWEALTH

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FROM AROUND THE WEB             

BEACON HILL

Legal experts say it’s hard to determine exactly how changes to the complicated issue of qualified immunity — a key issue in police reform legislation now pending — would play out. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Falmouth lifeguards are working while awaiting virus test results, and at least 10 recently tested positive. (Cape Cod Times)

Quincy’s Pine Hills cemetery will get 4,000 new graves as a part of a cemetery expansion project long in the works. (Patriot Ledger) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Hospitals in the state are bracing for a second wave of COVID-19 patients. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

New York City for the first time is setting up COVID-19 quarantine checkpoints for travelers entering the city. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

In a debate, Rep. Seth Moulton’s two Democratic primary challengers criticize his previous calls for House Democrats to replace Nancy Pelosi as their leader. (Salem News)

Wins by progressive challengers in several Democratic congressional primaries have buoyed the spirits of left-leaning insurgents who were dejected by the loss of standard bearer Bernie Sanders in the presidential nomination contest. (New York Times)

Facebook and Twitter, which have both faced calls to police false information peddled on their platforms, both took action yesterday against messages from President Trump’s personal and campaign accounts in which he said children are “almost immune” to COVID-19. (Washington Post)

Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld suggests the idea of Michelle Obama as Joe Biden’s VP pick “has gained steam” — though he cites nothing to back it — and he suggests Obama’s revelation on her new podcast that she’s suffering from “low grade” depression could all be part of a plan to get that news out there preemptively.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage is for sale, but owner Bill Bartley says he wants to find a buyer who will keep the iconic Harvard Square burger joint going. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

The Boston Public School system is proposing a hybrid system of in-person and remote learning with students divided into three groups. (WBUR)

Regis College reverses course, shifting most classes online and limiting access to residence halls. (MetroWest Daily News) Smith College in Northampton goes a similar route, abandoning in-person learning for all-remote teaching in the fall. (Daily Hampshire Gazette) Earlier this week, CommonWealth reported that Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok is urging Boston University and Northeastern University to abandon plans to bring students back to campus in the fall.

State colleges are anticipating a nearly 40 percent drop of students on campus to take in-person classes. (WGBH)

Students in the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District will begin the school year in a hybrid model, attending classes in person two days a week.  (The Enterprise) 

A Dartmouth College graduate student is on a hunger strike protesting the school’s handling of her sexual harassment claim against a professor, and her condition appears to be deteriorating. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

Local artists in Worcester are being given the opportunity to showcase their work in storefronts across from the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

A bikeway connecting several South Coast communities received a $40,000 state grant last week for the second phase of a feasibility study. (Herald News) 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Former federal judge Nancy Gertner and attorneys Martin Murphy and Michael Keating say prosecutorial zeal set the stage for the overturning of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death penalty sentence. (Boston Globe)

A Fall River Facebook survey found crime to be residents’ top worry — coronavirus is the sixth top concern.  (Herald News)

MEDIA

Media critic Dan Kennedy thinks the Boston Globe might revoke its July 31 endorsement of Democratic congressional candidate Jake Auchincloss. (Media Nation)

PASSINGS

Pete Hamill, the streetwise son of Brooklyn and legendary New York journalist, novelist, and editor, died at age 85. (New York Times)