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Bus route canceled due to driver shortage

Bus+96s+route+was+canceled+today+due+to+a+driver+shortage+and+illnesses+among+district+drivers.+About+150+students+across+the+district%2C+and+about+50+at+the+high+school%2C+were+affected.
Tumi Ojo
Bus 96’s route was canceled today due to a driver shortage and illnesses among district drivers. About 150 students across the district, and about 50 at the high school, were affected.

It wasn’t easy for junior Jacob Rosswog to make it to school today. 

For the first time in at least 30 years, the district had to cancel a bus route today due to a shortage of bus drivers. Students who normally take Bus 96 either had to find their own way to get to school or stay home and complete their work on Canvas. 

The bus route cancellation affected about 150 students across the district, including about 50 high school students.

“I woke up this morning and I had no clue I wasn’t going to have a bus driver. My mom told me as I walked at the door, so I had to ask my neighbor for a ride,” Rosswog said.

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The canceled bus also affected his way of getting home. 

“I have to leave school early because I don’t have a bus ride home, so my parents have to pick me up before they go back to work. It’s impacting their day because they have to leave work to help me out,” Rosswog said.

Rosswog’s parents were not happy with this situation, he said.

“My mom was pretty upset. She was mad that the school didn’t send the email earlier. She was also nervous because she had to figure out how to get me and my younger siblings to school today,” Rosswog said.

Supt. Dr. Randal Lutz sent a Skylert message to families at 5:30 a.m. informing them of the cancellation. The goal is to explore every possible avenue to staff every bus, but also to alert families as early as possible about a cancellation, he said.

“I would love to give parents and students as much notice as possible, but once I cancel, it’s tough to put the genie back in the bottle,” Lutz said in an interview.

The cancellation was due to several drivers calling off because of illness, he said.

“There’s a bit of a bug going around the garage,” Lutz said. “We don’t have that many extra drivers. In today’s case, we might have been OK to get kids into school, but we had absolutely no way to get the kids home.”

Districts in multiple states – including Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia – have dealt with bus driver shortages, and there is an estimated shortage of about 3,500 drivers in Pennsylvania alone.

In an email to the district this afternoon, Lutz said that if similar situations were to arise in the future, other buses would be canceled before Bus 96 would be canceled a second time.

“The cancellation of routes will be used as a last resort and only after all other means to get children to and from school safely have been exhausted,” Lutz wrote. “Additionally, it is my promise that no bus will be impacted a second time unless or until all bus routes have been affected a first time.”

As for tomorrow, Lutz said he does not know the status of the bus routes yet. And if cancellations become more common, the district might have to return to remote learning on some days.

“I think everything is on the table,” Lutz said. “We expect teachers to have their Canvas pages up to date. There might be a position where we go full remote because it’s a lot cleaner” in terms of ensuring everyone can receive instruction.

Bus driver shortages are a problem throughout the state and across the country. 

According to a Pittsburgh Post Gazette story, districts in multiple states – including Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia – have dealt with bus driver shortages, and there is an estimated shortage of about 3,500 drivers in Pennsylvania alone. Central Valley School District in Beaver County had a bus driver shortage the first week of school and about a dozen students had to learn remotely as a result.

Other area districts are also facing a lack of drivers, Lutz said.

One dad emailed me back immediately and said he never thought he would be in this position and didn’t know the procedure of dropping off the kids at school.

— Dr. Randal Lutz

“I know that in many other school districts, bus routes are one of the main issues they are facing right now,” he said. 

The driver shortage really grew through the pandemic, Lutz said.

“Right before the pandemic, we had 65 drivers. Now we have 36,” he said.

There are a variety of reasons for the driver shortage, including retirements and the extensive training and testing that is required of new drivers, Lutz said. The work schedule is also difficult, since it requires driving for several hours in the morning, then not working mid-day, and then driving again more hours in the afternoon. 

Lutz said that some parents who contacted him considered the bus cancellation to be unacceptable. Others had a variety of concerns.

“One dad emailed me back immediately and said he never thought he would be in this position and didn’t know the procedure of dropping off the kids at school,” Lutz said. “One mom was concerned about her child because she receives free meals.”

Among the high school students affected by the cancellation, junior Samir Sanyasi didn’t mind being driven to school, but he wasn’t able to make it on time. 

“It was kind of difficult to get to school because there were a lot of cars” waiting to drop off students, Sanyasi said.

Senior Ray O’Brien was also impacted.

“It was a very inconvenient time. My dad just broke his arm, so he had to drive me to school one-handed,” O’Brien said.

Junior Anmol Acharya was able to get to school on time with little problem.

“It was fine because my dad works at night anyways, so he’s awake in the morning,” Acharya said. 

Freshman Emma Mainarich said her dad had to drive her to school, which impacted his work day.

“My dad had to go in late and now he’s probably going to be home late too,” she said. 

English teacher Susan Fagnilli said she felt bad for the affected students. 

“I understand the frustration of students and parents, but I also know that everyone in administration is doing what they can to get our students here and ready to learn,” Fagnilli said.

She said she is using Canvas to reach out to her students.

“Students are encouraged to check Canvas for their work, and I am willing to work with students to make up anything that they missed,” Fagnilli said. 

Staff Writers Tumi Ojo, Seth Franco, Asmita Pokharel, Kevin Hutchinson, Eliza Swanson, and Sean Galentine contributed to this report.

This story was originally published on Purbalite on September 20, 2023.