FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – As school districts in Colorado explore the idea of returning to in-school teaching, COVID-19 social distancing guidelines are forcing major districts to nearly eliminate all transportation options. Poudre School District, which educates more than 30,000 students across Northern Colorado each year, recently announced busing will be eliminated for all but 1,400 of their students, just 10% of the students who rely on buses.
Nearly 14,000 students in PSD rely on busing for class. Because of state guidelines, bus capacities will be cut from 77 students down to just 10 per bus. Buses tailored to students with special needs will be limited to a capacity of five. Therefore, the district will only be able to offer their services to the 1,400 who qualify.
The only students currently allowed to ride the school bus to and from classes during the 2020-2021 school year will be students with disabilities, students with inconsistent housing and children in foster care.
“That decision is due to current department of education guidelines,” said Madeline Noblett, Executive Director for Communications for PSD. “We are always looking to balance the best possible education services with the health and safety of our kids, and staff.”
While many students in high school are able to drive themselves to class, differing start times often eliminate their ability to drive younger siblings to middle and elementary schools. Parents who work non-traditional hours, or who live in dual-income households, have expressed their concerns over being able to get their children to class without the assistance of a bus.
“I have no idea how we are going to work this out,” said Denise Stetz, a mother of four in Fort Collins.
Stetz, who has three children between elementary and high school grades, told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas her biggest concern comes with getting her fifth grade son to class. She said her house does not have a direct bike lane or sidewalk that leads to his school.
And, in a dual-income household, she cannot afford to skip work or hire someone to handle transportation services for each school day for an entire year.
“There is no way I could get my child to and from school,” Stetz said.
As many who live in the Fort Collins area know, train tracks are scattered throughout the communities, and often cut through neighborhoods.
In Timnath, PSD’s Bethke Elementary school has train tracks that run diagonally between the school and nearly every single household in the nearest neighborhood. Students who only live a few hundred yards away from the school rely on the bus to get to class, so they can be safely transported across the railroad. There are not any options to cross the tracks via a tunnel or bridge.
Because of the state’s regulation,s most young students at the school who cannot get a private ride to class will be forced to cross the train tracks themselves. There are not fences that line the tracks.
For Stetz, her youngest child’s school is currently scheduled to take place during half-day classes. Because both adults will be at work, and her oldest son will be at school himself, her child will have to find a way to walk or ride a bike home.
“That isn’t going to work if he doesn’t have busing. I don’t feel comfortable with him walking or riding his bike,” Stetz said. “There is absolutely no way, as a parent who works and my husband works outside the home, that we can provide transportation mid-day to or from school.”
The district, which was forced to cut some of their busing staff as well due to budget concerns, is hoping the state will loosen restrictions before the school year begins. In anticipation of that happening, they have opened up an application process for parents to request bus services for their students. If more riders are allowed, the district will comb through their applications and decide which students best qualify for rides.
Noblett said the district is also weighing options when it comes to transporting students to sporting events and field trips. She noted, under current guidelines, the district would have to purchase several more buses they currently have to operate as they once did before COVID-19, which isn’t financially possible.
Stetz applauded the district for following the guidelines handed down by the state, but called on districts to discuss different options with health officials to make schooling more reasonable.
“We don’t want (students) to be in unsafe situations. We are faced with a unique and challenging reality where we have restrictions and limited resources,” Noblett said.