Many Columbus students won’t be able to ride the bus this school year

Superintendent says they will still pick up preschool students who live in city limits.

COLUMBUS, Kan. – Drew Theile and his son Kaden are spending as much time together as they can before the new school year starts, and they’re lives get quite a bit more complicated.

“Parents are just gonna… it’s gonna be hard for them to make do with what they’ve got to do with,” says Theile, a Columbus parent.

Theile has decided to enroll Kaden in in-person classes this year. But, like many parents, he usually depends on the bus to take his son home since he works past the time that he gets out of school. Something he and other parents who live in town won’t be able to do.

“It’s gonna make it hard for a lot of parents to be able to get there and pick up their children. A lot of them work out of town, and the kids depend on the bus to get them at least closer to home, so they don’t have to walk as far,” says Theile.

On August 11th, the Columbus School District put out their reopening plan for the coming school year, which includes a pretty big change to transportation.

“We’ve been put in a position where we can’t transport every student,” says Superintendent Brian Smith.

Instead of transporting nearly 500 students each day, the number will closer to half of that. Since students who live inside city limits, unless they are in preschool, will not be able to ride the bus at all.

Smith says the district had to find a way to pick up those students that live more than two and a half miles away, since they legally have to, while also reducing the chance of infecting a whole bus full of kids. So, they’re going to require students and bus drivers to wear masks, sanitize their hands when they get on the bus. They will also only be allowing one student per seat unless they are family members, and not allowing students to sit in the first row of seats behind the bus driver.

“So if one student did get COVID on that bus, we wouldn’t have to quarantine every student and the bus driver,” says Smith.

But to make that work, since they only have ten bus drivers, they won’t be able to pick up students who live in town. After the district put out the plan, there was almost immediate concern voiced by parents, since many of them are at work when school lets out and won’t be able to get away to pick up students in the middle of the day.

“With 6 days until school this information is a real hardship not only for us, but for any parent who relied on the buses. Not everyone works an 8-3 job in town or has options to get their kids to school,” says parent Jessica Mayfield.

“Luckily my work does come into play and they allow me to take that break to get away. I know there’s a lot of parents out there that don’t have that option,” says Theile.

Several parents also wish that the district had given them more time to prepare since school starts on the 17th. Smith says the district’s transportation director spoke with parents at their August 5th enrollment, but several parents didn’t attend enrollment.

“We didn’t get the requirements from the state until July 14th. We’ve had several governor’s orders since then. We’ve had the state change the plans since then,” says Smith. “We’re gonna try to do everything we can to help with this situation cause I know how difficult it is.”

Smith also says that while students will be required to wear masks on the bus, they won’t be requiring them at all times in the buildings.

“We will be requiring them on all buses because it will be impossible to social distance. We will not be requiring them at all times because we will be social distancing. The CDC only recommends cloth face coverings when students are unable to maintain social distancing. We do not believe it is necessary for students to have them on the entire school day. We are however providing masks for students who do not have one. We will also be providing masks for students who ride the bus. We are also providing sneeze guards in all of the classrooms along with many other safety precautions (temperature checks, opening windows, etc.),” explains Smith.

Smith says that if any parent is starting to re-consider their student’s enrollment status, they do still have time to make that change.

You can read the district’s full reopening plan on the district’s Facebook page, linked below. Below this link is the full interview with Superintendent Brian Smith.