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The transportation challenge of returning to in-person schooling.

Good afternoon. 

Celia Jiménez here, thinking about how hard it has been for me to adapt to our current reality. But in the course of my reporting I’ve learned that it was probably easier for me than for many in California and Monterey County, specifically families trying to keep up to date on the ever-changing rules for school reopenings.

Since day one, parents have had different approaches to in-person learning: Some want their kids back full time and as soon as possible, others want to wait for vaccinations, or at least wait until their kids finish the school year. 

Since Monterey County reached the Orange Tier on April 7, more schools are opening or are considering reopening for in-person learning, a move many parents have been eagerly awaiting. But this sense of normalcy has brought another set of challenges: Shorter school days and no bus services

Nicole Amaral feels fortunate her son is going back to Monte Vista Elementary in Monterey almost full time—five hours a day, four days a week—while some other schools are only offering enrichment classes in the afternoon, or in-person school twice a week. Amaral feels lucky she has the time to drop him off and pick him up. Working parents with multiple children are in a tough situation, she tells me. If all the schedules don’t align, they’re not able to send their kids back to in-person classes.

Amaral is happy her 8-year-old son is returning to the classroom, but sad that some of her son’s classmates won’t be there. “That is a problem I’m seeing with a lot of my friends,” she says. These friends are looking at options like carpooling or using public transportation to send their kids to school.

Many school districts, like Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, are offering school buses (as well as before- and after-school care) to students who need it the most: special ed and low-income students. But under current Covid safety guidelines, buses have to comply with a 50-percent capacity limit. This restricts transportation options for many families.

Working parents feel adrift. I asked in a Facebook group, Monterey County Families, how the lack of transportation will impact their decision to send their kids to school. “There is no way I can arrange my day to get my kid to school and back for two hours in the early afternoon. He will remain on 100-percent distance learning,” Kristal Gaskell shared. She says this decision could change, depending on the options that are offered in the fall. “It creates an incredibly inequitable education offering for children who have single parents or dual working households,” Kristin Starr Clayton Bobb posted, highlighting the limitations parents have to face.

It is clear that something as simple as not having a ride to school will prevent many kids from attending in-person classes, even when such an option is available to them. 

The pandemic has in many ways illuminated the deep inequities all around us, but they continue to emerge even now: something as simple as how to get to school is a challenge for some kids, but not for others, and existing systems aren’t equipped to fix it all a once. 

-Celia Jiménez, staff writer, celia@mcweekly.com

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