Transporting students to school still sticky issue

Bus capacities drop as parents plan other ways to get students to school
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The problem of busing students to school in an age of social distancing and fear of coronavirus is one that all school districts are grappling with, and Shawano School District isn’t sure where it’ll be regarding buses once school starts in September.

Superintendent Randi Anderson said she is working with Kobussen Buses to figure out a plan for busing students next year. The buses currently have a 72-student capacity, but the social distancing requirements will bring the maximum down to 35, she said.

It’s unclear how many more buses will be required in the fall, Anderson said, because many of the buses had only been at 60-80% capacity even before the pandemic closed the schools in March. Also, the district has been surveying parents, and many of them are considering using alternative transportation, such as parents transporting students and carpooling.

The school district had been considering running double routes to help decrease the number of students on a bus, but that would cost an additional $3,000 per day, a cost that would be impossible for the district to cover, according to Anderson.

“We are going to back to the drawing board with that and continue to have conversations about how to meet our needs,” she said. “We’ll look at our survey data and see what the need of busing will be.”

School board member Bruce Milavitz said that, if the district dropped busing altogether and still had in-person instruction, parents would still find a way to get their children to school.

“I just have a feeling that, community-wide, they’d find a way to band together and make that happen,” Milavitz said.

Concern was expressed that reduced ridership could result in longer routes outside the Shawano city limits. Anderson said many of those routes are 35-40 minutes, with the longest — going around Shawano Lake — being 58 minutes.

The district has the option to not offer busing within a two-mile radius of the schools, which would impact most of the city students. Anderson was hesitant to recommend such a route, noting students walking to school might be in a hazardous situation if they crossed Green Bay Street and/or Main Street.

Plans for busing are expected to be approved by the Shawano School Board. It is uncertain whether the busing plans will coincide with the plans for reopening the schools, which are expected to go to the board Aug. 3.