Carlisle Area School District does not plan to require students to wear masks on school buses when school resumes in late August, Director of Management Services Eric Sands said last week.
The district’s interpretation of whether school buses could be classified as “public transportation” differs from the current recommended guidelines handed down by the Pennsylvania departments of health and education and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“My understanding is that anyone on public transportation, whether they are vaccinated or not, needs to wear a mask,” Sands said. However, there are many school districts within Pennsylvania that believe school buses should not be classified as public transportation, he said.
While mass transit buses are open systems that anyone could ride, school buses are designed to pick up and transport specific students along a designated route closed off to access by the general public, Sands said. “Thus, it’s not true public transportation.
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“We are going to continue to watch the guidance,” he added. “We are going to continue to review information from the CDC. If need be, we will reach out to our solicitor for the interpretation of their requirements.”
Ryan Dellinger is executive director of the Pennsylvania School Board Association, which represents independent school bus contractors within the state.
“I can only speak anecdotally,” Dellinger said. “I know that some of our members have been asking, ‘Look, our district is requiring it, what does that mean? Do you know what happens if we don’t follow it?’
“It’s really on a district-by-district basis,” he said. “I do know that our contractors are working with their districts to try and figure out how it [masking] pertains to them.”
As Dellinger understands the guidelines, the CDC requires masks on school buses regardless of the vaccination status of the student and regardless of whether school districts require masks in campus buildings.
The current CDC language reads: “CDC’s order applies to all public transportation conveyances including school buses. Regardless of the mask policy at school, passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private schools systems.”
State law requires school districts to provide a school bus seat for every student enrolled in the district. In South Middleton School District, that number could be as high as 2,100 students, Superintendent Matthew Strine said.
“My understanding is that school buses are considered public transportation, and we would follow the guidelines and recommendations,” Strine said. “Obviously, we are keeping a close eye on what that means and if anything will change.”
Plans are still in the works at Cumberland Valley School District.
“Any decision regarding masking on buses will be addressed in our health and safety plan,” said Tracy Panzer, communication specialist at the district. “A draft of the plan, once completed, will be placed on our website no later than the end of this month.”
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