Schools are open, but some students can’t get to campus. Parents and students across the country are scrambling to find alternative transportation due to a school bus driver shortage. While this isn’t a new problem, it seems worse than ever. What is causing this latest hurdle in an already challenging school year, and what can be done to fix it?
Pandemic Bus Driver Crisis
With the COVID delta variant and mask mandate battles creating chaos and uncertainty, we knew this third year of pandemic teaching wouldn’t be easy. What many of us didn’t imagine, however, is that kids wouldn’t have a way to get to school. Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening right now.
According to a nationwide survey, at least half of the student-transportation coordinators in this country would describe their school bus driver shortage as “severe” or “desperate.” This type of crisis is unprecedented.
National School Transportation Association executive director, Curt Macysyn, told NPR, “This back-to-school period is nothing like the previous periods we’ve seen. In previous years, we’ve seen regionalized driver shortages, but nothing to the extent that we’re seeing today.”
There are many reasons for the school bus driver shortage. As Macysyn explained, they include:
- Drivers were furloughed when the pandemic forced closures in 2020.
- Some drivers retired.
- The pay is too low.
- New hires need a commercial driver’s license.
- DMVs have had limited hours, making it hard for drivers to take road tests or get qualified.
- Potential drivers are worried about safety since children under 12 aren’t vaccinated.
Clearly, this is a complex issue that won’t be solved overnight. In the meantime, families are trying to navigate this additional problem.
Impact on Students & Parents
Preparing for school during this pandemic is stressful for many. In fact, some parents are sticking with virtual learning and homeschooling for now. For those who can’t or prefer not to use those options, the school bus driver shortage is a nightmare.
Yes, there are bus route issues at the start of every school year, but things are exceptionally bad right now—even in major cities. Some Metro Detroit school districts have been forced to suspend bus routes until they can find drivers.
In Missouri, an emailed newsletter set some shocking expectations for parents. In the message, Gentry Middle School principal Josh Johnson wrote, “It is possible for some students not to arrive home until 2-2½ hours after school has been dismissed. If you prefer to pick up your student until these bus issues have been resolved, please feel free to do so.”
No-shows and extensive delays are common right now, so students and parents have had to find ways to cope with this situation.
Can the School Bus Driver Shortage Be Solved?
As mentioned, struggles with school bus routes and drivers are nothing new. Those existing barriers continue to persist. On top of that, though, administrators and leaders are trying to address problems brought on by the pandemic.
Here are some of the temporary solutions we’re seeing across the country:
- Schools are encouraging parents to drop off and pick up their kids. Based on their own work schedules and/or access to a vehicle, this could be difficult or even impossible.
- Some have turned to third-party vendors, but those drivers have been resigning too.
- Chicago’s mayor has been talking to ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft to try to secure transportation for students.
- Transportation companies are offering bonuses of up to $2000 in some areas.
We polled our own community of teachers to find out what they think. Here are some of the comments:
“One school in our county is having Paras drive buses.” —Alanna Morgan Reid
“They changed the start times across my district and standardized them to be 7:30, 8:30, and 9:00 a.m. So my school now starts at 7:30 and my son at 9:00. He is in first grade and doesn’t get done until 3:39. So one bus driver can cover more routes. There are late busses everyday by hours.” —Teresa Hughes Rennie
“Maybe it’s time to get serious about the behavior of kids on the busses.” —Elizabeth Kirkleen Crow
“Money, benefits, treated like real humans. That’s a start. COVID came and there were plans for busses but then there wasn’t money for it. Bus drivers are dying from COVID and not offered the same protection as teachers. I wouldn’t drive a bus either.” —Wendy Hellekson