BURLINGTON – School officials and the district’s bus provider, Trombly Motor Coach Service, had to work diligently to ensure social distancing protocols are met for students taking buses.

Today, marks the first day for students with in-person learning in grades 1-5, 6 and 9, the Burlington Early Childhood Center, and students who have chosen a full remote learning program for this fall semester. The first day for all other students is Monday, Sept. 14. Today, also coincides with the district’s new transportation program that has been devised for getting to and from school in a bus while maintaining social distancing parameters, which is not the easiest of tasks.

With Burlington Public Schools embarking on a hybrid reopening plan consisting of students only learning in-class for part of the week, the need for bus transportation isn’t the same as it was before the novel coronavirus.

The transportation plan provided through the work of school officials and Trombly Motor Coach Service looked at the capacity of the buses while then drawing a concentric circle from the center of each school building, outwardly, until the capacity of each bus met the demand. The circle is a key part of the formula, as it equates the amount of students who do not qualify for a seat on the bus because they live close enough to the school that they can utilize other modes of transportation.

For example, at Burlington High School (BHS), there were 80 more students than the buses had capacity for, so the concentric circle had to expand 1.3 miles from the center of BHS to meet the capacity and demand. This means that any student living within a 1.3-mile radius of BHS is not eligible to take the bus to and from school. School Supt. Dr. Eric Conti confirmed the seats on the buses have been assigned for specific eligible students, but siblings are allowed to sit together.

The idea of a “common exclusion circle” was deemed not equitable because each school is different in terms of its building size and student capacity.

“The only way this transportation plan can work is with variation,” Dr. Conti explained to the School Committee, noting the district’s typical robust transportation services for all students is a general negative with the pandemic affecting routes and in-class learning. “Many communities do not provide busing for students living within two miles of a school. One of the challenges for us throughout this process is that we offer such a ubiquitous level of service.

He disclosed that only 30 percent of students are using school buses for the fall semester. Yet, the bus transportation costs have not decreased, which Dr. Conti called, “One of the more frustrating parts” of this resolution. All students who previously declared they will not be taking the bus, have been excluded from the bus demand/capacity calculations.

Bob Cunha, director of technology and operations for the School Department, outlined the rest of the busing numbers for the schools, which follow the formulae of “the total number of seats available multiplied by the number of buses each school has.” Each school is part of its own tier of buses in the district.

- Marshall Simonds Middle School (tier 1)

Using all 18 buses, first thing in the morning, the school has enough capacity and did not need to deduct any students from using the buses.

- Fox Hill Elementary School (tier 2)

The school was 84 students over capacity, so a concentric circle of .81 miles was needed to reach capacity.

- Pine Glen Elementary School (tier 2)

The school checked in at 46 students over capacity, resulting in a circle of .53 miles, which makes sense for a smaller school.

- Memorial Elementary School (tier 2)

A total of 56 students had to be reduced by expanding the circle to .75 miles in order to reach capacity.

- Burlington High School/Francis Wyman Elementary School (tier 3)

Francis Wyman had a total of 360 students looking to use the buses, so 159 students had to be reduced at a circle of .715 miles. Burlington High School had to reduce 80 students at 1.3 miles.

At the time of this School Committee meeting this past Tuesday night, students did not know if they were eligible for a bus seat. However, Dr. Conti confirmed students were informed of that information yesterday, so today and tomorrow students using the bus had their assigned seats, which they will continue to have throughout the fall semester.

The School Committee cited no issues with the transportation plans logistics, but some members did reference the possibility of carpooling. Dr. Conti retorted that carpooling is only acceptable, in his opinion, if siblings make up the passengers.

Expect updates on the transportation situation at the committee’s next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

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