Weighing Return to School, Boston Families Express Transportation Concerns

While Boston Public Schools allow for a free pass for students to use the MBTA during the school year, some parents are worried in the risk of exposure to COVID-19

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As families consider whether to send their kids back to school in Boston, one of their biggest concerns is transportation. Every year, thousands of students rely on the MBTA to get to school, but this year few are eager to take it.

"I cannot envision how I can safely get him to school," said parent Kyle Gichuru, whose son is a freshman in high school this year.

Boston Public Schools announced that students this year will return in phases. Those with special needs and younger learners will come back first, followed by students grades 4 through 12 in November.

While the plan allows for a mixture of in-person and remote learning, Gichuru has decided to keep both her kids at home to avoid transit and other safety concerns.

"I have already opted out of the hybrid model," Gichuru explained. "I'm incredibly nervous."

Within the district, approximately 27,000 students are eligible for a free pass that allows them to use the MBTA system free of charge during the school year. While not everyone takes advantage of the option, the possibility of any surge in ridership during a pandemic could be problematic.

"You're creating an environment in which people are taking a risk of exposure," Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo said.

With fall upon us, you may want to set up your child for success with a designated home learning space as they prepare for more remote learning.

Many parents who rely on public buses to send their kids to school reside in Arroyo's district, where he fears they could see an uptick of COVID-19 as more students return to the classroom.

"There's no way for the MBTA to contact trace strangers when we have children on a bus who may be positive," Arroyo said.

But the MBTA has moved to improve its sanitization and safety protocols. The agency has increased the frequency of its cleanings in its transit stations and vehicles. Riders are required to wear masks and are asked to remain socially distant on board buses and trains. Still, families are skeptical that will work with an influx of students.

"I think we are stuck with just bad options," Gichuru said. "And I think we have to get on board with there is not going to be an option that's really all that fantastic."

For Gichuru, the best option is to keep her family home.

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