The Pike Township school district will resume in-person learning on Wednesday after a bus driver shortage resulted in students learning online for two days. The transportation problem kept students from reaching school buildings since last week, and forced the district to quickly provide virtual learning this week.
The challenges come as school districts across the country are struggling to provide bus transportation for students.
National School Bus Driver Shortage
The COVID-19 pandemic exasperated the school bus driver shortage that districts nationwide have faced for years. When school buildings closed and students no longer needed to be driven to school, some bus drivers sought other work opportunities. And now that schools are learning in-person again, it’s been difficult for districts to fill those positions.
Some school districts in Baltimore, Maryland and Wilmington, Delaware have offered to pay families hundreds of dollars to bring their children to school.
In Indiana, Carmel Clay Schools and the Indianapolis Public Schools district have enforced walk boundaries to minimize the number of students who are allowed to take the bus, and reduce the number of routes needed. Washington Township Schools even offered drivers $100 sign-on bonuses.
Despite these changes, many school districts, like Pike Township in northwest Marion County, are still in need of more bus drivers.
Pike Township Switches to Remote Learning
Last Friday the shortage of bus drivers started to directly affect Pike Township students when the district wasn’t able to run two of their regular bus routes. The delays impacted at least three schools — College Park Elementary School, Eastbrook Elementary and Lincoln Middle School students.
The district did provide later routes for families who were unable to transport their child to school. But buses weren’t able to pick students up until roughly 2 hours and 40 minutes later than their regular pickup time. This also resulted in students being dropped off at least 15-20 minutes late.
Early Monday, the lack of drivers led to an abrupt district-wide shift to remote learning for the nearly 11,000 students who attend Pike Township in grades pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.
Later Monday, Superintendent Flora Reichanadter shared a statement that the district was not aware of a rumored strike by bus drivers. The transportation problem, the statement said, was caused by the general driver shortage and illness related absences.
The district later responded to the growing concerns on social media that bus drivers collectively called in sick due to a wage dispute.
“Our contracted bus drivers make between $20.00 and $23.60 per hour, which is comparable to other districts,” the district said in a Facebook post. “They also receive benefits, which are regularly considered the best available.”
Some Pike families have taken to the district’s Facebook page and asked if the district could switch to hybrid learning instead of fully virtual classes. But the district said it still runs the same number of bus routes when they have hybrid learning — making that option unfeasible.
In a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon, the district said it believes it will be able to provide transportation for students, but doesn’t always have advance knowledge of how many bus drivers will be available.
“It is important to note that in most instances, we do not know that an employee will be out until they call in to report their absence that morning,” the district said.
Although students will resume in-person learning, the district statement also suggested that parents make backup plans in case schools are forced to close again due to the bus driver shortage or COVID-19.
“Because we are still in the midst of a pandemic, we are entering cold and flu season, and unexpected emergencies do occur, it is important that we continue to have plans in place, should it be necessary to temporarily transition to remote learning,” the district said.
Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.