(La Porte, IN) - There were no buses picking children on two routes Wednesday in the La Porte School Corporation by a driver shortage becoming worse from COVID-19.
Superintendent Mark Francesconi said there could be more route cancellations in the coming days until the infected bus drivers return to work.
“It’s the first time we had to do that,” he said.
Francesconi issued a notice to parents about the possibility on Tuesday to give them time to find other ways for their children to get to school if their route for the day is canceled. Students unable to get to school will switch to virtual learning.
“We’re in a pinch and we’re doing the best we can to hold on to in-person instruction,” he said.
Bus driver shortages are a problem nationwide from drivers contracting the virus and fewer people applying for job openings. Francesconi said the school year in LaPorte began with 56 full-time drivers and three substitute drivers. A shortage was later created when 16 full-time drivers were placed on extended leave for surgeries and other medical purposes.
Ever since, many of the remaining drivers have been completing their routes then running a second route, making sure all children have a ride to and from school. As a result, some students have been late, but at least they’re getting in-person instruction, he said.
Francesconi said the route cancellations are from not having more substitute drivers left to fill scheduling gaps after learning recently that eight full-time drivers contracted the virus or had to stay home from having close contact with an infected loved one.
Staff members driving school corporation-owned transport vans to pick up children were among the ideas considered until the sick drivers returned.
“During this setback, we will continue to look for ways to avoid cancellations in the future and do everything possible to maintain in-person instruction for our students,” Francesconi said.
Francesconi says route cancellations will be communicated through email and text messaging as far in advance as possible for parents to make alternative plans to get their children to school.
Parents were also advised to take other children from the same neighborhood to school if their route winds up getting temporarily canceled.
"We acknowledge the additional strain that these ongoing challenges present to everyone in our school community and appreciate your support and understanding as we work together to persevere," he said.