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    Challenges to district transportation during COVID

    In a typical (pre-COVID) school year, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) aims to have 400 buses available to provide student transportation by partnering with outside contractors to provide bus and alternative transportation services. As a result of the pandemic, bus transportation was severely reduced and bus drivers furloughed. The Transportation Department began working with its transportation partners in December to get as many drivers back in anticipation of a return to in-person school. Unfortunately, only half of the drivers that were furloughed have returned to work. Five main factors affect student transportation:

    1. Driver Shortage
    2. Whom We’re Legally Obligated to Transport
    3. Type of Bus Used
    4. Social Safe Distancing on the Bus
    5. Morning and Afternoon Cohort Overlap Driver Shortage

    Approximately 400 bus drivers and buses are needed during a regular school year to ensure equitable bus transportation for all eligible SPS students. Sixty percent of yellow school bus service is allocated to special education and 40% is for general education transportation. The COVID pandemic has reduced the number of available drivers to around 200, which is half of our normal capacity.

    Whom We’re Legally Obligate to Transport

    Federal and state laws require transportation services be provided for students that have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) with transportation as a related service, a 504 accommodation for transportation, and Head Start, McKinney-Vento, or students receiving foster care services. The number of students that fall under these parameters required 190 drivers and buses. Roughly 80% of Intensive Pathway students receive services outside their home school.

    Type of Bus Used

    Special Education transportation is a door-to-door service and requires using smaller Type A buses to navigate non-arterial streets. There is not enough time for drivers to return to the bus yard to switch to a larger Type C bus to transport general education students in the one-hour break between tier 1 and tier 2 in the morning cohort.

    Social Safe Distancing on the Bus

    The seating capacity on a Type A bus is 10 seats, which can accommodate 20 students. Safe social distancing guidelines have reduced seating capacity to 10 riders or one per seat, so the maximum number of riders on a route is 10. For comparison, a Type C bus can accommodate 28 riders with one rider per seat.

    Morning and Afternoon Cohort Overlap Affecting Transportation Services

    Drivers and buses assigned to the morning cohort cannot be used in the afternoon Cohort. In the morning cohort, the tier 1 bell times are 8-10:45 a.m. and the tier 2 bell times are 9-11:45 a.m. The afternoon cohort bell time starts at 11:45 a.m. This does not allow enough time between the morning cohort to take students home, disinfect the bus, and pick-up afternoon cohort students.