Amid bus restrictions, Prov. students may have to attend different school this fall

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As school leaders mull how to comply with busing guidelines that limit the number of students on a bus, Providence is floating the idea of moving thousands of Kindergarten through 8th grade students to schools closer to their homes.

The scenario is mentioned in a draft of a slideshow that was slated to be presented by Superintendent Harrison Peters at a virtual Town Hall at 7 p.m. Monday night. The town hall was canceled amid technical difficulties with the live stream, and a spokesperson said it would be rescheduled.

Guidelines from the R.I. Department of Education say students will have to sit one to a seat on the school bus this fall (unless they live in the same home), severely restricting the bus capacity. The slideshow also warns the district cannot get enough additional buses and drivers in time for the fall.

In one of the scenarios to be presented Monday night, more than 3,200 students (39% of elementary and middle school students) would switch to a neighborhood school closer to their homes this fall, allowing more than 2,200 of them to walk to school instead of taking the bus.

A slide from a presentation for a Providence K-8 Facebook Town Hall tonight.

Under a scenario where students remain at their current schools, buses would only be provided up to 6th grade, with fewer bus drops and staggered school start times. Students might need to walk up to a mile to their bus stop.

Another proposed scenario would only move elementary-aged students to their neighborhood schools, and keep middle school students at their current schools.

Providence currently only provides yellow school buses to elementary and middle school students, giving most high school students RIPTA bus passes (those with special needs still get a yellow bus.)

Laura Hart, a spokesperson for the district, said school leaders are still discussing whether parents would be able to drive their children to their current schools in order to avoid getting moved to the neighborhood school.

The neighborhood school model is one that was recommended during the Community Design Team process prior to the pandemic, though it wasn’t ultimately included as an initiative of the state’s Turnaround Action Plan for the district that was released last week.

But COVID-19 restrictions on busing — especially in urban districts where many parents don’t have cars — has brought it back into the conversation as a viable option to make in-person learning possible.

There’s still a chance that students will be partially or fully learning from home this fall, depending on the trend of the virus. But Gov. Gina Raimondo has said the goal is to have full in-person school this fall.

The school year begins August 31.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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