Amid understaffing crisis, bus driver shortage creates difficulties for students and parents

August Crothers, Instagram Team

You may have seen the large banners on Westnedge reading “NOW HIRING BUS DRIVERS” and listing off benefits. Bus cancellations have become a staple of this year at Loy Norrix and students need to prepare in case of cancellations. One of the worst days, on January 5, had 14 route cancellations.

Understaffing is present not only throughout all of Loy Norrix but most of the country. A department heavily affected by this at Loy Norrix is transportation, facing a lack of bus drivers and substitute bus drivers. Oftentimes multiple bus routes a day are canceled due to this shortage. Drivers drive for multiple schools in Kalamazoo Public Schools, so the cancellation of one bus affects multiple schools. Bus cancellations are announced the day before by text message or phone call, along with a list of the current day’s cancellations on the KPS website. KPS is advertising job openings in efforts to hire more drivers to fix the shortage. 

Back on September 7, 2021, KPS sent out a letter to families asking them to “have an alternate plan ready for your child to either transport them to school or to have child care available, if necessary.”

Getting to and from school with bus cancellations can create strain on students.

“My parents had to drive [me to school]. I got lucky enough, that time, that one of my parents was home and able to drive to school. It was not easy to say the least,” said junior Yacine Lo, whose bus has been canceled around five times. “Every single time I was dropped off, I was late, and those are tardies that I had to take. They’re not excused or anything, they’re just tardies.” 

Racking up three tardies results in receiving lunch detention and eventually after six tardies, after-school detention. Some students stay home from school if they can’t organize a ride or to avoid gaining a tardy.

“Usually I’ll have to fight with my mom to get a ride. my grades go down in English because of missing school. It’s really hard to get the absences excused,” said junior Estella Marquez. “I just wish that they would excuse the absences, so I wouldn’t have to fight my way to get them excused.”

Parents or students can report an absence due to bus cancellations, by phone or in the main office to get it excused and recorded in Home Access Center under the code B for bus cancellation.  

According to a WWMT article, titled “School bus driver shortage impacting attendance as routes are dropped” written by Andrew Feather,A Kalamazoo Public Schools spokesperson said the district doesn’t track whether student absences are connected to bus cancellations,” meaning an absence related to a bus cancellation will automatically go into Home Access Center as unexcused and count towards losing credit for a class once nine absences are accumulated unless the absence is called in.

“Absences fluctuate depending on which bus drivers are out,” said principal Christopher Aguinaga. This makes it difficult for KPS to track which absences are due to bus cancellations and which are not.

Even with the absence excused, absences due to bus cancellations can still cause problems for students. “When my bus is canceled, I have to find a ride. If I can’t, I stay home. It affects me academically because I can’t be at school to do work,” said senior Noah Doerschler, who’s bus has had frequent cancellations.

Stress is also placed on parents, who may find it difficult to get their kids to and from school while juggling work and other responsibilities.

 “My mom has to make less time in the morning to get me to school,” continued Doerschler. 

Margaret Locke, a KPS parent, said, “I have had to reach out for help with pick up and I have had to take meetings over the phone in the car during pick up as well, which has definitely been interesting.”

Extra difficulties arise for parents who have students in multiple KPS schools. 

“When my senior couldn’t drive her sister home, I had to be at Maple and Norrix at the same time, and there’s no way to do that,” said Erica Sloan, who has kids in both Maple Street Magnet School and Loy Norrix. “I had to pull the middle schooler out 10 minutes early.”

Parents have turned to creating a Facebook group, KPS Family Carpool, in order to organize carpools to get students to school. Students have also discussed creating a student run carpool resource for those affected by bus cancellations.

KPS staffing has seen improvement in recent weeks, with staff returning from sick leave and new drivers completing training, now only one job listing is open according to KPS’ Online Employment Application. However, the district is still facing multiple cancellations a day.