Before the new school year begins, school districts may need to revisit their arrangements for transporting students. In addition to a unique United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) requirement to mask students on buses, districts will need to comply with changes to transportation laws that the General Assembly included in the State’s most recent Budget Bill (H.B. 110). So what changed, and what does it mean for school district plans?
It may be helpful to start with what the Budget Bill has not changed. First, nothing has changed when it comes to mask requirements. While the rest of Ohio’s mask mandates and guidance are in flux (which we discuss here), the Ohio Department of Health reaffirmed in its recent guidance that the CDC “continues to require that masks be worn on all public transportation, including school buses,” regardless of vaccination status.
Second, boards of education still will be required to transport community and nonpublic school students on days that the public school district is not in session, but the community/nonpublic school is in session. This requirement historically has been understood to be included in a school district’s general obligations, but the Budget Bill amended Ohio law to make it explicit.
Here is what the Budget Bill will change effective September 30, 2021:
- Declarations of Impracticality. Districts will be able to make such declarations only at specific times – namely, 30 calendar days prior to the district’s first day of instruction, or 14 calendar days after a student’s enrollment. Districts will not be able to pass such a declaration mid-year given the September effective date for the change in law.
- Payment in Lieu. When a district offers payment in lieu of transportation, existing law permits the parent or guardian to reject the payment and seek mediation. The Budget Bill changes permit the parent or guardian to authorize the community or nonpublic school to act on the parent’s/guardian’s behalf during the mediation meeting.
- Transportation Plans and the New “30 Minute” Arrival/Departure Rule. Community and private schools will need to establish start and end times for the school year. Once they have done so and notified their local school districts, the school districts must develop and provide a transportation plan with routes and schedules for eligible students. School districts will be required to deliver students to their respective schools not sooner than 30 minutes prior to the beginning of school, and they must be available to pick students up not later than 30 minutes after the close of their respective schools each day.
- Use of “Mass Transit.” Districts wishing to use mass transit to transport K-8 community/private school students must enter into an agreement with the community or private school authorizing it, and both entities need to approve the agreement. There is no agreement required for students grades 9-12, but the district must ensure the student’s route does not require more than one transfer.
- Compliance Monitoring. The Department of Education will be tasked with monitoring school district compliance with certain transportation laws, including those set forth above. Noncompliance can subject a district to financial consequences. If the Department determines “a consistent or prolonged period of noncompliance,” the Department must deduct the total daily amount for transportation payments for each day the district is not in compliance.
More guidance from the Ohio Department of Education regarding the changes is expected in the coming weeks. However, given that the Department will be monitoring compliance, school districts should work with their legal counsel to begin addressing the changes and having necessary discussions with their community and nonpublic schools as soon as possible.