COLUMBUS, Ohio — School Districts across the state are adjusting to a bus driver shortage.
Pickerington Local School District canceled all in-person classes Tuesday, and all students will need to complete assignments remotely except for kindergarten students, who will not have assigned work.
In a statement to Spectrum News 1, Crystal Davis, Public Relations Coordinator, attributed the move to a rise in COVID-19 cases among staff:
“Today's move to virtual learning for Pickerington Schools is the result of a spike in COVID-19 cases among Petermann Bus Services' office staff. Petermann and PLSD Transportation staff are and have been following all proper safety protocols." - Pickerington Local School District
Westerville City Schools also faced challenges Tuesday, releasing all high school students one hour early. All Westerville middle school students were released 30 minutes early.
URGENT: All high schools on 1 hr. early release; all HS students will follow early release schedule today Tues., Dec. 7. Also, all middle school students will be on a 30 minute early release today Tues., Dec. 7.— Westerville Schools (@WCSOH) December 7, 2021
A bus driver shortage has been affecting districts in Ohio and nationwide. Another central Ohio district - Hilliard City Schools - did not had to make any changes, yet.
“We currently have enough full-time drivers to keep our routes running as scheduled,” said Communications Director Stacy Ratterman in a statement to Spectrum News 1. “But, with fewer subs, we have the dispatchers and mechanics driving routes almost every day to help out. It really is a razor thin margin.”
In Warren Country, Public Information Officer for Mason City Schools Tracey Carson said the district is combatting the worker shortage the same way.
“We know we’re getting tight on that number of how many drivers and subs it takes,” said Carson. “Everyone in our office staff and our bus garage who has the qualification to drive are not in the office today, they’re behind the wheel.”
The district sent information to parents this week warning of possible delays in transportation.
“We have not yet pull that trigger, but we wanted to let people know that is a possibility,” said Carson.
She said there are several reasons for a lack in staff this school year.
“We’ve seen workforce issues, drivers having other opportunities and higher pay, quite honestly, you’ve seen the supply chain issues and people really needing folks with commercial drivers license (CDLs),” said Carson. “We’re seeing a workforce that’s had medical procedures that need done not necessarily COVID-related.”In 2020, there were 314,920 school bus drivers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This year, there's 15% less. In Ohio alone, the Department of Education reports there's 18,349 active drivers.
A study by the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation found that 90% of school districts have been impacted, with 3.7% of the bus routes in the state not being covered on a daily basis, according to Doug Palmer, the Ohio School Boards Association’s transportation consultant in an interview with Spectrum News last month.
“Bus driver shortages are causing office staff and mechanics that have their credentials; they're being forced to drive, so that's impacting schools in a variety of ways because office staff aren’t there to answer the phones. Mechanics are having to work a lot longer hours to get the buses services. It's having a very, very negative impact on the whole school transportation operation,” Palmer said.
Earlier in the school year, Gov. Mike DeWine said Ohio was exploring an option for the National Guard to get involved. The idea came from Massachusetts, where Gov. Charlie Baker activated nearly 240 members of the Guard to drive students as part of a mission that ended two weeks ago.
Those plans haven't moved forward.
Digital reporter Pete Grieve contributed to this report.