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Initial effort targets 200 migrant farmworker children who walk precarious route to school
With a month to go before the new school year starts, Manteca Unified is trying to determine how much home-to-school busing they will be able to offer.

They live more than 1½ miles from French Camp School

In order to get there — and to return home — almost 200 children have to:

*walk along high-speed Matthews Road that has no sidewalks

*take a route that those released from the nearby county jail will walk to return home when someone doesn’t pick them up.

*cross heavily-traveled Interstate 5 on and off ramps

*cross the Union Pacific Railroad tracks

The 200 children reside in two migrant farm housing camps in the northwestern most reach of the Manteca Unified School District.

And  their parents have made it clear they value an education and safety of their children so much if the only option is for their children to walk to school they will forgo work they need to support their families to drive their children to and from school.

Trying to figure a way to make sure the migrant farmworkers’ children can get to school safely is just one part of the to-and-from school transportation puzzle MUSD officials are working to piece together just four weeks before the new school year resumes.

The biggest problem — unlike at the start of the pandemic when it was bus capacity due to rigid social distancing rules imposed by the state and the money pressures that were initially created — is a shortage of bus drivers.

MUSD Community Outreach Director Victoria Brunn noted the district us scrambling to secure bus drivers. They are even offering financial incentives for those who are employed after six months. The incentive basically covers the cost of obtaining the required state licensing to drive a bus.

Last school year, the district was able to secure outside transportation for the migrant students with the help of funds from the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

At the start of last school year, due to a severe reduction in bus capacity based on social distancing and a mandate schools provide busing for special education and homeless students

That meant 84-passneger buses could end up only carry six to eight students at a time. The smaller 20-passenger buses were reduced to three or four passengers.

Given the district last fall had 456 special education students and 861 students classified as homeless the district was forced to use all of their available buses to transport special education and homeless students.

That meant bus service for 1,200 other students that lived outside of walking distance to campuses were no longer being bused.

Since schools aren’t reimbursed for bus service — even students the state mandates them to transport — the board had no choice but to drop the to and from school busing.

The district spent $6 million in the 2019-2020 school year to bus not just special education and homeless students but the 1,200 other students that lived farthest away from campuses.

Had the district not dropped the service, they would have had to cannibalize funds dedicated to classrooms by upwards of an additional $20 million just to pay for busing.

That’s because social distancing would have required a bus that may have once collected 40 students on a route to make five or so additional trips. It also would have made it a logistic nightmare to get students to school on time.

At the end of April as COVID conditions improved and the Centers for Disease Control allowed more students on a given bus, it enabled the district to switch six larger buses back to transporting other students to and from school.

Due to a still limited capacity based on COVID-19 rules, the district increased the distance from campus for students to be eligible to ride the bus.

Kindergarten through eighth graders that live beyond a two mile radius from a school campus were eligible to ride a bus. That’s was a mile farther out than before the pandemic.

On the high school level, the distance to be eligible for busing was doubled to three miles. Before the pandemic it was 1½ miles for high school students.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email