SEATTLE — Thousands of Seattle Public School parents were left scrambling to find new ways to get their kids to and from class, after the district cut nearly a quarter of its bus routes in anticipation of a driver shortage following the COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline.
“It’s been a little chaotic,” said Albert Fowler, as he and his partner, Brynna Jourden, made their way to John Hay Elementary School to pick up their kids from school.
Jourden and Fowler were among the thousands of families who received a notification that their bus route would be cut come Oct. 18.
“We reached out to some parents, said, ‘Hey, can we pick your kid up? Can we drop them off?’ and then [we] were just trying to organize and communicate,” said Jourden.
“We’re going to go grab ten kids and walk them down the neighborhood,” Jourden laughed.
Ahead of the deadline, the district announced they were anticipating a significant decrease in available bus drivers following the deadline for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate and, therefore, had made the decision to cut 142 of the district’s 600 bus routes.
The reduction impacted about a quarter of the district’s total routes, and roughly 6,740 students (however, the district said that number may be less considering not every student rides the bus regularly).
“We got one day’s notice of no bus service whatsoever,” said Sasha King, a father of a student at Queen Anne Elementary.
“I’m a single parent to my two daughters, and I’m reliant on the bus system to be able to go to work everyday and right now I’m actually having to leave work in order to pick up my child,” King continued. “We might actually have to leave this school in order to get bus service, so that way I can provide for my children, so they have a place to live.”
SPS contracts its buses and drivers through a company called First Student. Already, going into the school year, the company faced a severe driver shortage that delayed dozens of routes for an average of one to two hours.
Previously, SPS and First Student told KIRO 7 the pandemic had exacerbated a driver shortage that was being felt nationwide.
In a statement to KIRO7, a spokesperson with First Student said:
“We certainly understand the burden a delayed or cancelled route creates for families. We are working in partnership with the district to try to minimize the impact. We remain committed to providing as many students as possible with safe and reliable transportation.”
According to SPS, the route changes will be in place indefinitely.
Students that will continue to receive bus service include those receiving special education services, McKinney Vento and foster students, those with a 504 plan that includes transportation, schools that serve large numbers or high proportions of historically undeserved students, and schools at interim sites.
The district said they will work with schools on a case-by-case basis to address the needs of students who have no other way to get to school.
The district said First Student is actively working to hire more drivers and will reinstate routes accordingly.
The latest updates can be found on the SPS Transportation website.
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