Coronavirus means many school bus riders will be left with no seat


HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) — Millions of students rely on school buses to get to school in the fall, but buses don’t have space for social distancing.

Lucy Forbes was shocked when she learned that her 13-year-old daughter won’t be eligible to take a school bus to and from her Houston middle school.

The city’s acting superintendent recently announced that to meet social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only a fraction of its 60,000 students who regularly ride the bus will have an available seat. Only special education, homeless and priority students will be transported.

Forbes, a single mother, works full time. Her hours at the office make it nearly impossible for her to drive her daughter herself.

“For me, it will require a two-hour commute a day. I have a greater spectrum of options, but I am worried about the families who don’t,” said Forbes.

Refitting buses is a challenge for school districts already facing budget pressures.

Austin, Texas, announced buses will have a capacity of 12 students. And like Houston, only eligible students will get initial seating.

Atlanta will be limiting bus ridership to 60%. Philadelphia public schools plan to limit each school bus to 11-15 students. Smaller cities are also feeling the pressure.

The Ionia School District covers more than 132 square miles across Michigan, where over 1,500 students rely on bus transportation.

Superintendent Ron Wilson is running out of options as schools plan to open their doors Aug. 26.

“I would not have enough buses to socially distance the kids, but I would need basically six buses to complete a single bus route,” said Wilson.

Many school bus drivers are concerned about possible risks to their own health, too. Robert Salley has been a school bus driver in the Boston area for 39 years.

“I get a lot of calls from drivers to ask me, uh, what is the plan for starting September 10. And it’s really bad to say we don’t know anything,” he said.

There are currently very few solutions at hand. The school bus industry has introduced a $10 billion relief plan that Congress may or may not take up.

Social distancing will make carpooling less appealing. And according to the CDC, less than 10% of students walk or bike to schools.

“It’s great to say that schools are open,” said Lucy Forbes, “but if we don’t have a way, a reliable way, that’s organized and structured to send our kids there, it will trickle down into nothing else happening either.”

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