West Shore School District in central Pennsylvania was fully back to in-person classes this week after a school bus driver shortage resulted in two weeks of partial virtual learning for students at three school campuses.
Located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River across from the state capital of Harrisburg, West Shore School District began operating staggered Zoom classes on Sept. 18 for students who attend both high schools, Cedar Cliff and Red Land, as well as Crossroads Middle School. School bus contractor First Student was unable to hire the 10 school bus drivers needed to operate the two tiers.
Virtual classes — twice a week for the high schools and on Wednesdays for Crossroads — ran through last Friday. The district website states that normal school bus service resumed this week for all schools but added that adjustments to pick-up and drop-off times will continue to be necessary as existing drivers cover multiple runs.
“We acknowledge that late arrivals and early dismissals will likely result in loss of instructional time at all levels, and as a result, building administration will continue to adapt daily schedules to reduce the effects to particular class periods,” the post continues.
Last week, Superintendent Todd Stoltz explained that West Shore did not move to a hybrid delivery model because the district learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that challenges rose when trying to teach in-person and online simultaneously. “We are not currently in a position to offer this learning model, but we are considering it as a possibility,” he added.
Transportation service remained for the other two middle schools, eight elementary schools, and two vocational schools that are on normal schedules.
Meanwhile, Stoltz said First Student is offering school bus applicants a starting wage of $20 per hour with flexible schedules and the opportunity for their dependent children to ride on routes. The contractor is adding a $3,000 sign-on bonus for experienced CDL drivers and a $2,000 bonus for new school bus driver applicants. It also pays applicants while they train for their CDL.
“…[W]e received a number of suggestions on ways to respond to the driver shortage and feedback on the negative effects of remote learning,” Stoltz said via the district website. “We share your concerns about the loss of instructional time and continue to evaluate our options. As you can imagine, every possible solution comes with its own set of challenges. However, no suggestion or idea is going without consideration.”
A spokesperson for First Student said the company is continuing to recruit, hire and train drivers to serve the school district.
“We do have candidates in various stages of training and hope to add them to bus routes in the coming weeks,” said Jen Biddinger, the communications manager for First Student. “We are keeping the district updated about staffing levels so their families can plan accordingly. We appreciate their patience and understanding during this time.”
As for the structure of the virtual classes, Stoltz explained that each period included a minimum of 30 minutes of direct, teacher led, Zoom instruction. Teachers remained online for the entire period for one-on-one or group work. Students take lunch or flex periods on their own away from their computers.
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