Warwick does not have enough buses to safely transport students come fall, school committee says

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ There’s a strong possibility that students in Warwick who rely on buses to get to school may need to find a new mode of transportation this upcoming year, according to Warwick School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bacchus.

During a special public session Wednesday night, the Warwick School Committee opted to cut approximately $6 million from the school district’s transportation budget after agreeing that there is no safe and equitable way to ensure that all kids will have a ride to school.

In the state’s recently released guidelines, students will remain in stable groups per bus, will have assigned seats and must be screened before boarding. Buses will also need to be sanitized between uses and students will be required to sit one per seat unless they are siblings.

Bacchus said as of right now, there just aren’t enough buses to implement the state’s new mandates, put into place to stem the spread of the coronavirus. She said at this time, they can only offer students with special needs or IEPs transportation to and from school.

“Right now, the buses don’t exist,” Bacchus said. “Whether they be additional school buses, or Peter Pan buses, or magic buses… we really don’t have a solution to transport our students to school at this time.”

Bacchus also said the state has not provided much guidance as to how school districts can safely provide transportation for their students, saying some of the options that Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green aren’t financially feasible.

“Right now we just can’t do it because we don’t have enough buses, we don’t have enough licensed bus drivers,” Bacchus said. “Even bus monitors are an issue, because we need to have some additional bus monitors to make sure the kids act in a way to keep themselves safe and healthy.”

Warwick School Committee member David Testa said the district would need an additional 40-50 buses to safely transport students under the new state mandates.

“I don’t believe we can provide healthy and safe transportation as the RIDE guidelines stand right now,” Testa said. “My big concern is how we can actually provide safe transportation, and if we can’t provide it because we can’t get the extra buses, who decides who rides?”

Bacchus said the decision to cut the bus budget is based on the situation they’re in right now, and that they’ll study the issue further in an attempt to find a solution before the school year begins. She said it’s possible that, if they find a solution, they will re-instate the funding.

“We have to keep looking at various ways to make this work,” Bacchus said.

School districts are required to submit three contingency plans by July 17, which Bacchus said isn’t enough time to come up with a solution.

“There is a huge equity issue…and none of us are in a position to make that kind of decision,” she said.

The Warwick School Committee plans to readdress the issue when it meets again next month.

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