PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Gov. Gina Raimondo gave the green light for most schools to reopen for full in-person learning Monday, but one of the biggest questions on parents’ minds is: how do districts plan to get kids to and from school safely?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has several recommendations to help keep kids safe while riding the bus. These include keeping the windows open, spacing kids out, and ensuring everyone is wearing a mask.
Districts that have made the choice to go back to at least some form of in-person learning are implementing these protocols.
According to the R.I. Department of Education, only 36 kids can be on a bus at a time.
Lincoln school officials say 60% of parents in their district plan to drive their kids to school, and with the increased capacity, they’ll be able to provide bus transportation to all students without having to stagger entry times.
School officials in North Providence say for the parents who’ve chosen for their child to take the bus, they anticipate 20 to 30 students per bus on average.
Exeter/East Greenwich school officials said the school has added a new tier of bus transportation for elementary schools.
In an email to 12 News, Superintendent Jim Erinakes said, “Kids in grades K-3 will ride on one tier, and kids in grades 4-6 will ride on a second tier.”
Erinakes said the junior and senior high schools will be operating in a hybrid model with only 40% of kids on-site, and all buses are following guidelines by the R.I. Department of Health.
Superintendent Micheal St. Jean from North Smithfield said they’re only allowing 36 kids on the bus at a time. During the hybrid model, they’ll be able to transport students by bus, but if the district moves to a “full reopening” they’ll have to rely heavily on ride-sharing and parents.
School officials in Portsmouth said they’ll be able to provide transportation to most that need it because there are a number of families that have opted-in for distance learning.
Tiverton Superintendent Peter Sanchioni said his district has 14 buses, and prior to COVID-19, each bus would transport 71 students to the elementary, middle, and high schools in town.
“Every town or city’s probably looking for extra buses – depending on the load it’s just not available,” Sanchioni said.
Sanchioni said now they’re only able to transport 35 students per bus, and said bus transportation was one of the biggest factors when his district began creating its back-to-school plan.
“The buses are just one other component of that safety protocol — and we’re gotta work together on that,” Sanchioni explained.
He said when it comes to keeping kids safe while heading back to school and making sure they’re following the new rules, it starts at home.
“Reopening is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “If you don’t want that virus coming into your house, then you’ve got to work with us on the protocols that you’re asking your child to become part of.”
Web Extra: Narragansett School Bus Walk-Through (story continues below)
It’s not just about logistics, however. It’s also about students feeling secure.
One high school student from Smithfield tells 12 News her younger family members will be riding the bus.
“It makes me nervous, especially since I don’t know what other parents are doing to keep, you know, their kids as safe as they can be,” Smithfield High School Student Council Secretary Autumn Blakely said.
Blakeley said she hopes parents in her district will have that conversation with their kids to help keep everyone safe.
“It’s definitely going to be hard because they are little kids – they’re not going to want something on their face 24/7 – they’re not going to want to sit forward in a bus and not turn around and talk to their friends,” she said.
Along with social distancing and wearing masks on the bus, Sanchioni said kids will also be screened before they get on the bus and each bus will be cleaned, “at the end of every run.”
“So at the end of the high school run in the morning, that bus has to be sanitized, all those seats need to be wiped down and so forth before the middle school run and then at the end of that run,” he said.
For parents who are dropping students off, Sanchioni said they plan to stagger times.
“It’s just going to ask some parents to cooperate with us and maybe come a little earlier,” he said.