HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Coordinating and arranging buses for students is a challenge in the best of times. With Covid-19, these are certainly not the best of times.
“Transportation is a problem across the board,” said Gov. Tom Wolf at a recent press conference. “How do you practice social distancing and get people on to a school bus?”
Many public schools won’t have that problem as they’ve opted for online-only instruction and won’t be bussing their students. But what about private and catholic school kids that rely on the public school district for transportation?
Parents of non-public school children across the state are getting anxious.
“Now at the 23rd hour almost, we’re told the busing could be pulled,” said Sue Dilisio of Levittown, Bucks County. “We’re very unhappy about it.”
Dilisio’s son is heading into his senior year at Conwell-Egan Catholic High School. She says her public school went all virtual and is in discussions to park the busses for everyone.
“As a taxpayer, they really don’t have the right to pull busses from us,” Dilisio said. “That’s part of what we pay for in our taxes.”
“We may have to file an injunction or legal remedy,” said Sean McAleer, director of Education for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
McAleer says roughly 50 of the state’s 500 public school districts have either refused or not yet committed to bus non-public students.
Districts may argue that since they are not busing their own students they are not required to bus non-public students. Or, they could posit, because of coronavirus complications, busing is too big a burden and untenable. McAleer doesn’t accept either of those arguments.
“If they’re virtual, they’re not providing transportation for their children, so that should free up enough bus drivers and busing to take non-public students back and forth to school.”
PA House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff says ‘not busing’ is not an option. He sent a letter to the state Department of Education reminding them that the legislature fully funded schools so they should have plenty of money to bus all students. He also pointed out that non-public school parents pay taxes and are entitled to transportation services.
The Catholic Conference is convinced the law is on its side but would prefer not to fight it out in the courts.
“Everybody’s aggravated right now with the situation we’re in,” McAleer said. “But I do wish public schools would come to their senses.”
Wolf concedes the non-public busing situation is a big issue and a tough test. And he admits he doesn’t have a final answer just yet.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education says it is currently working to find a solution and provide guidance.