Yellow school buses will be rolling again for the upcoming semester following a deal worked out between the city and bus companies, which typically shuttle 150,000 school kids to class each day around the city. But getting those contracts registered and the remaining vehicles inspected before the reopening of school buildings is another matter.
Sean Fitzpatrick, executive director of the city Department of Education's pupil transportation unit, said the agency is moving "heaven and earth to try to get buses in place by the first day of school," according to a report from Chalkbeat.
Getting a clear picture of what the first day of school will look like for students dependent on a bus won't happen until "a few days from now," Fitzpatrick said. Chalkbeat reports that the City Comptroller Scott Stringer will need to pore over the new contracts, while the DOE will have to inspect 10,000 vehicles before they're approved for use. So far, about 6,000 buses have been looked over and approved to hit the road.
For now, parents are awaiting word over whether their bus company will be cleared to have their children picked up. The DOE did not respond to a question over how confident the agency is in seeing buses run by the first day of school. Students whose bus companies will not be ready in time will be given MetroCards to help them get around — but mass transit isn't always an option for every student.
Maggie Moroff, a special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children, told NY1, "A lot of the students that Advocates for Children works with, if they don’t have busing, they can’t get to school and they don’t have the option of taking a cab. They really need the busing in place if they have disabilities, if they’re kids in foster care, if they’re kids who are homeless. We’re very worried."
One the buses are operating, safety protocols will be implemented, with fewer students boarding so that there can be social distancing inside. They will also be required to wear masks to get on board. And windows will remain open for good air circulation.
Meanwhile, other students will rely on public transportation as the would have pre-pandemic — an estimated 100,000 kids use their student MetroCard to get to school, sometimes taking hourlong treks to get there.
Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an 11-day delay for in-person learning to have more time to prepare for a return to school. At the time of his announcement, school bus contracts were in the stages of being renegotiated, according to Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan. The DOE had canceled bus contracts with the city after all schools were forced to shift to remote learning in March because of the pandemic — this transportation cost $1.25 billion annually, according to the New York Post, so the move saved the city money, but left many bus companies without a lifeline, leading to furloughs.