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    Transportation during COVID
    Posted on 05/04/2021
    A school bus drives down a city street

    Addressing Challenges to District Transportation

    Student transportation is impacted by several factors, which Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is working to address.


    Those factors include:

    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.

    In recent years, the district has partnered with First Student as its primary provider of buses and drivers and occasionally with Durham School Services as a secondary provider. The pandemic has reduced the number of First Student drivers to approximately 200, which is half of our normal capacity. Durham currently is not offering service in the Seattle area.

    Students We're Legally Obligated 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 requires 190 drivers and buses. Roughly 80% of Intensive Pathway students receive services outside their home school.

    Types of Buses Used

    Special Education transportation is a door-to-door service and requires using smaller buses to navigate non-arterial streets. There is not enough time for drivers to return to the bus yard to switch to a larger bus to transport general education students.

    Social Safe Distancing on the Bus

    The seating capacity on a smaller 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 larger 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 afternoon cohort bell time starts at 11:55 a.m. This does not allow enough time between the end of the morning cohort to pick students up at schools, transport them home, disinfect the buses, pick up the afternoon cohort students at their various stops, and transport them to school.

    Strategies for Moving Forward

    The challenges of the driver shortage and safety guidelines described make it impossible to provide transportation to all eligible students. General education K-5 and K-8 schools that received yellow bus service pre-COVID are not receiving bus service for the remainder of this school year. If additional bus drivers who will only drive general education routes become available, we will focus on establishing limited general education transportation based on the highest needs.

    The Transportation Department also is looking into alternative solutions to provide families as many options as possible. Those strategies include:

    1. Providing families of students with IEP, whom the district is unable to transport, with "in-lieu-of" payments by which a family is reimbursed for transporting their student to and from school based on mileage
    2. Re-establishing services with taxicab providers
    3. Establishing services with mainstream transportation network companies such as Lyft and Uber, who also are suffering shortages because of COVID
    4. Negotiating with chartering services to secure large and small buses, although this approach will be constrained by state laws governing the types of vehicles that can be used to pick up and drop off students on public roadways


    Photo by Marcelo Cidrack on Unsplash