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Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools suspend service for 21 bus routes due to staff illnesses

A Chapel Hill- Carrboro City school bus
Brian Batista
A Chapel Hill- Carrboro City school bus

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools suspended service for 21 bus routes on Monday due to an acute shortage of drivers. The disruption is expected to continue through Wednesday.

Bus routes are missing a driver due mostly to staff illnesses, with many reporting symptoms of COVID-19.

The district's chief communications officer Andy Jenks says it's the most significant shortage the district has experienced this school year. Most days, the district can fill absences with substitute drivers.

“And then COVID and other illnesses comes in and wipes out half the transportation team,” Jenks said. “And so yeah, this is much bigger and much more substantial than our typical mornings of uncovered routes.”

Affected families are encouraged to provide transportation for their child or call the district's transportation office to arrange for a bus to pick them up after 9 a.m. Families who can drive their student should expect longer lines at pick up and drop off.

“It's obviously heartbreaking to us when whenever a student misses instructional time,” Jenks said. “This is often been the case during this situation, but we'll always send a bus back for your student and we want our families to really remember that.”

The district is also asking caregivers of kindergarten through second graders who ride the bus in the afternoon to be ready to pick them up at the bus stop to prevent further delays.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is exploring more solutions to alleviate the on-going bus driver shortage. Last week, the school board voted to raise pay for its drivers to $20 an hour.

"Just last week, we had three or four drivers who were calling us and wanting to get in the door at that rate of pay," Jenks said. "That's tremendous, because what we really need are drivers who are already licensed, and already trained, and can start driving a bus tomorrow."

The school board is also considering starting some elementary schools 20 minutes earlier so drivers can run additional back-to-back routes. The district expects to hold a public hearing on that proposal within the next month.

Recently, Wake County schools have also grappled with a shortage in bus drivers.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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