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Coronavirus rules & state mandates for special education create double whammy
MUSD school bus
Various state mandates — including for COVID-19 — mean these 84-passenger buses will be carrying maximum of eight riders at a time to take special education students to and from school for learning groups.

There may be two special education students living on the same block but if they are attending different learning groups that are now being allowed at schools different buses will pick them up.

And the odds are they could both be 84-passneger buses that will end up only taking six to eight students school at a time.

It’s the new world that Manteca Unified and other school districts are dealing with as they follow state mandates regarding academically at-risk students while adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols.

Further complicating bus transportation is the fact the cohorts or small groupings now being allowed on campus are not there every day and usually for no longer than several hours at a time. That means every time a bus goes out the driver will have a completely different route.

The at-risk students now returning periodically to campus include special education, homeless, and foster kids students among others in kindergarten through 12th grade in small cohorts or groupings. The state decided to allow learning groups back on campuses as long as they were kept small with students not interacting with students outside of their cohorts including to and from school transportation that is mandated by the state for district’s 456 special education students and 861 students classified as homeless.

The state definition of homeless is where students do not simply mean they are unsheltered but if they do not have a permanent address as their families are living in a garage, or sharing a home with another family.

“They (bus drivers) can’t simply go to one place in a neighborhood and pick up students,” Superintendent Clark Burke said.

There are two reasons for that. The state mandates door pickup and drop-off service for special education students. On top of that students in specific grade level cohorts are spread throughout a school’s attendance area. Students in different cohorts can’t be mixed on a bus mean the most an 84-passenger bus can carry on a route is eight students

As a result of the social distancing requirements virtually all of the district’s buses — the 20-passenger buses specifically purchased for transporting special education students and the 84-passenger buses — are now being pressed into service.

That means the $6 million spent last year to bus not just special education and homeless students but 1,200 other students that lived over a mile from an elementary campus or 1½ miles of a high school will likely be consumed just to transport special education students.

It is why the Manteca Unified board was forced to eliminate to and from school transportation for 1,200 non-special education students. Had the district not dropped the other service, they would have had to cannibalize funds dedicated to classrooms by upwards of an additional $20 million just to pay for busing.

Protocols developed specifically for each school site during the past month to allow intervention and support for distance learning has been going as planned to assure student and staff health.

Schools have started with one group at a time to make sure they are maintaining safety protocols.

The return of TK thru

6th graders still a ways off

It will be awhile before transitional kindergarten through sixth graders will start returning to classes.

The district is putting the finishing touches on the exhaustive documentation of protocols that are needed for the San Joaquin County Public Health Department waiver the board authorized the district to apply for earlier this month.

Once the waiver is granted, the administration will return to the school board for approval of a specific reopening plan.

Clark cautioned against expecting all students in TK through 6th grade returning in quick succession.

That is because the district — in keeping health as its guiding priority — wants to make sure plans they have in place for COVID-19 mitigation are executed without issue before ratcheting up the numbers on campus.

It means making sure enough manpower is on staff to assure not just disinfecting but serving meals in classrooms instead of cafeterias and making sure movements of “cohorts” of classes of students when they occur at recess and such are done so without straying from protocols.

“Just like with everyone else, we need to do things differently due to COVID-19,” Burke said.

Burke said all grade levels will not be returning at the same time buy rather over an extended period of time as the district is comfortable with being able to handle COVID-19 related issues

Based on a memorandum of understanding dealing with pandemic related issues reached with the Manteca Educators Association that the Manteca Unified school board agreed to students will be  going to school two days a week for in-classroom instruction and two days a week of distance learning once they are allowed to return to campus.

Classes will be divided into two cohorts or groupings. Cohort “A” will go to school on Mondays and Thursdays while on Tuesdays and Fridays they will attend distance learning sessions.  Cohort “B” will go to school Tuesdays and Fridays while on Mondays and Thursdays they will attend distance learning sessions.

On Wednesdays students in both cohorts will participate in distance learning.

Teachers will have the option of working from home on Wednesdays.

The bottom line is every student will be physically in a classroom two days a week while the other three days they will be distance learning. The hours of attendance whether it is in-person or online will be the same.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email