School bus transportation service for high school students in Gloversville and Johnstown was abruptly canceled Sunday afternoon, leaving parents dependent on bus pickup stranded to either drive their children to school or to keep them at home for the next eight days of school.
“We were hanging on a thread before that, and that puts us in a position where [HFM BOCES] is unable to run all of the errands they usually do, ”said Gloversville Expanded School District Superintendent David Halloran.
On Sunday evening, phone calls were made to parents around 5 p.m. in Johnstown and Gloversville to notify them of the bus cancellation, and a message was sent by Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent William Crankshaw to parents via the GJSD ParentSquare system.
“Due to a serious shortage of personnel from the HFM BOCES transport service, we regret to inform our families that, for the next eight days of teaching, starting on Monday, September 27, 2021, the shared transport service HFM BOCES will not be able to transport JJSHS students to class. 7-12 in school during this time, ”reads Crankshaw’s message to parents. “During this unprecedented situation, the district is asking that if you are able to transport your student to school, please arrange to do so to the best of your ability. As a result, students may arrive late, but our teachers are ready to accept them into class as soon as they can arrive. Of course, not all families can transport their students, so synchronous learning is available in all cases. Please check your teachers’ Google class for Zoom links and assignments.
Bus driver shortages have caused problems for the bus service in the Greater Amsterdam School District and the Schenectady City School District since the start of the school year, but so far neither have ‘was forced to completely shut down the service for part of their school system.
Halloran said he was informed on Sunday by BOCES HFM Deputy Superintendent of Operations Aaron Bochniak that COVID-19 testing revealed a positive case among BOCES transport staff, resulting in several 10-day quarantines that effectively crippled capacity of the service to provide enough bus drivers. and bus helpers to manage high school and elementary school bus routes for the two school districts.
“They had just received the word. It wasn’t something they knew on Friday, ”he said. “It’s the experience, not only with transportation, but with COVID from the start. You never know what you’re going to get, no matter what day of the week.
Crankshaw said the bus cancellation affects around 150 GJSD students. Halloran said for Gloversville it was more grades, grades 6 through 12, affecting both middle and high school, but he was not sure how many students were.
GESD school board chairman Robert Curtis said he didn’t know when HFM BOCES discovered the quarantines, but the school district tried to warn parents as soon as it found out.
“No, it’s not the best time, and it won’t be practical for a lot of people, but I think this is the reality we still live in with cases of COVID still happening,” said Curtis.
Halloran said on Sunday that he and Crankshaw were able to decide via text messaging to institute a plan to prioritize the remaining HFM BOCES bus drivers to provide services to elementary schools and students with special needs.
“It is in the hope that students who will not be able to make it to school at the high school level will be able to more easily connect with their classes through synchronous learning, or they will be able to connect with their classmates and driving to school, ”says Halloran. “We knew it was a possibility, for various reasons, after last year’s experience, so we have to be nimble.”
Crankshaw said HFM BOCES was already facing a shortage of bus drivers before this latest COVID-19 outbreak, and the shortage had forced the two districts to “double up” on some bus routes.
“We had to come up with a plan that would allow as many children as possible to go to school,” Crankshaw said. “Our high school students are more likely to engage in synchronous learning more effectively and productively, and our high school is trying to settle in and do a good job with that. Elementary is so difficult to reach students virtually. It was really part of the decision.
Crankshaw said Johnstown Junior Senior High School starts at 7:30 a.m. and GJSD elementary schools start at 9:00 a.m., which means households with children in elementary and secondary schools put their children on two separate buses. Crankshaw said he didn’t know what would happen if a parent attempted to place a high school student on the elementary school bus, but warned that many of those buses are already crowded without much space to resell.
“If that happened, I don’t know what that scenario would look like, just at the house where the kids are being picked up,” Crankshaw said. “I imagine we would hear about it through a phone call from parents, and I feel bad for parents who are in an impossible situation. We would ask them to try to work with the school. We think we have the best plan we can have right now. “
The GJSD has been posting bus driver job vacancies on its website for weeks. Crankshaw said the bus driver population is often made up of older people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, putting additional pressure on the number of available drivers. He said he hopes more community members will want to take the training to drive buses and help alleviate the shortage.
“We advertise every Monday. We have six weeks [training] program, and we hope some people will notice that because we need people, ”he said.
Halloran said he intended to explore options regarding making possible “van transportation” available for some students with limited options for getting to school in addition to the bus. He said he needs to explore the legality of the school district providing transportation in a form other than a bus and hopes to have answers early this week.
Crankshaw said he will also see if adjustments can be made to extend bus service to some additional high school students, but it was not certain on Sunday whether that would be possible or not.
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