New transportation guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) eliminates capacity limits and social distancing requirements on some of the state’s school buses.
The document, posted to the DESE website on Thursday, states that capacity limitations and physical distancing requirements are being lifted for all elementary school students. The requirements are also being lifted for middle and high school students, except for those in school districts with high community prevalence of the coronavirus. In those communities, middle and high school students will be allowed to sit two to a bus bench, according to the document.
DESE officials also stated in the document that these changes are only allowed if other COVID-19 safety precautions are taken, including wearing masks, opening windows by at least two inches at all times, and having students seated in assigned seats.
To ensure that all health and safety guidelines are followed, officials also recommended school districts have a bus monitor — perhaps a volunteer, student leader, or staff member — on board every bus.
On Friday, following the release of the DESE guidance report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new operational strategy for schools alongside a new guidance handbook from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).
The CDC’s operational strategy emphasized the importance of wearing face masks, in addition to social distancing of at least six feet in areas that have high community spread of COVID-19. Aside from how to implement hand washing, wearing masks, and social distancing, the U.S. DOE handbook outlines how school districts can plan for in-person learning and safely transport students on school buses, particularly with the addition of partial plexiglass partitions between bus drivers and students and using seat assignments that load the bus from the rear forward.