AUSTIN, Texas - School buses for Austin ISD, when the school year begins with remote learning, will be used as mobile wifi hot spots, as well as for deliveries of food and equipment.
What happens next, in September, is what worries the district's transportation director, Kris Hafezizadeh.
"We are going to start to bid on our routes, our bus drivers and bus monitors pick their routes starting next week, right. That's where the real thing comes along. Do we need more employees? Our number of employees at this time is good,” Hafezizadeh said.
The original Austin ISD COVID-19 bus plan limits capacity to 25% or about 12 kids on board with every other seat blocked off. However, now there's the possibility ridership will have to increase when campuses reopen.
"I can tell you now, I will have problems with providing good service with 12 per bus,” said Hafezizadeh.
The bus plan includes assigned seating with extra masks and hand sanitizer available, but no temperature checks. After each trip, high touch areas will be wiped down. Buses will also get sprayed down with a special disinfectant about once a week, but that will only reduce the risk - not eliminate it.
"If I put more employees into quarantine, then what, I cannot ask for the sub office to send me bus drivers, because that's different criteria. I do lose sleep on that, Rudy, that's a great question, the 1 million question, I don't think anybody can answer for me perfectly,” said Hafezizadeh.
Ken Zarifis, with Education Austin, believes there is no reason to put kids on buses now and predicts any bus plan will lead to one thing.
"We will have these periodic shutdowns, with terminals, with busing, with educational spaces, and so kids will have an interruption in their learning, if we do all online, stay consistent, have one plan, kids will eventually be able to get online and learn, let's keep it simple stupid,” said Zarifis.
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In an attempt to simplify the messaging, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath issued a clarification on the start, closures, and funding. Morath shared the following on social media:
- Schools can offer all remote instruction as part of the eight week back to school transition.
- For up to five days if a school building is closed because of COVID-19 schools will be funded for providing remote only instruction.
- If a closure goes beyond five days due to a legally authorized order, schools will be funded for providing remote only instruction.
- High schools will be able to offer alternating on-campus / with remote instruction in order to reduce the number of students on campus.
"This is the fourth set of instructions we've had in the last month, contradicting the instructions that we received just a couple of weeks ago,” said Mark Wiggins with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
Decisions regarding schools and the COVID-19 crisis, according to Wiggins, is a local control issue and he says it's past time for total local control.
"Let's not forget, people's lives are at stake, let's get out of the way and let educators, parents, and public health officials do what they are trained to do,” said Wiggins.
As the school year quickly approaches, politics may become the main driving force.
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