State allows more students on buses

RYAN HUTTON/Staff photoNRT company school buses serve Haverhill and other communities across the region.

Massachusetts schools have one less barrier for getting children back to school full-time: They will not have to be spaced 6 feet apart on buses, according to new guidance from the state.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has revised its July school reopening guidance and now allows more students on buses as long as they wear masks and maintain other health measures.

The Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has reviewed and endorsed the updated guidance, according to the document.

"In all cases, maximum distance between students should be maintained during boarding and transportation, and all other safety protocols are still required, including wearing masks and opening windows a couple of inches," states the document, which was released last week.

The department still recommends children stay as distant as possible, and that they sit next to siblings to decrease virus transmission. Students are also recommended to stay 3 feet apart when standing at bus stops and wherever else is appropriate.

The department lifted all capacity and distancing requirements for elementary schoolers in every district. Those restrictions have also been lifted for middle and high schoolers as long as the district isn't at high-risk for virus transmission, the department stated.

If the district is at high-risk for virus transmission middle and high school students may sit two to a seat, according to the new guidance.

Bus capacity has been one of the most restrictive constraints placed on school districts as they have navigated reopening in the pandemic.

Massachusetts schools are required to transport all students in kindergarten through sixth grade who live farther than two miles from their school to school by law. Some towns, including Andover, stopped transporting older students to be able to accommodate the restrictions.

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