As the first day of class approaches, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials struggle to find bus drivers and thousands of students are at risk of having no transportation, reported Block Club Chicago News.
About 2,100 CPS students were left without a ride on their first day of school last fall due to the driver shortage. With classes to begin on Aug. 22, the district still had 400 vacant driver positions. This could eventually leave many students without a bus.
According to a CPS spokesperson, the district hired 95 yellow bus drivers, but hundreds of positions remain vacant. So far, the district said it will be able to fulfill 15,700 ride requests that have been made.
However, if buses fill up district officials are considering offering public transit passes for students. Furthermore, those experiencing homelessness could apply for a $500 monthly stipend for their transportation.
Parents and educators are left wondering if they can fully trust the district’s bus plans.
CPS reportedly offered families $1,000 for transportation last school year but fell months behind on some payments. Some families rejected the stipend, calling it impractical for students with disabilities and said it was not enough to cover the cost of gas or ride-hailing services.
Alice Costas, a teacher at Northside Prep High School, said one of her students did not show up to class until November because he did not have a bus route.
Amber Smock, the director of advocacy for Chicago-based disability rights organization Access Living, said CPS’s bus shortage is a national issue that was turbocharged by the pandemic. She states Chicago’s school system leaves out thousands of students who need appropriate learning options which are not readily available in their neighborhood schools.
Laurie Viets, who has a 13-year-old son on the autism spectrum, declined the stipend and applied for a yellow bus to pick him up. However, she does not know which bus will come.
Viets said she believes that CPS had plenty of time to recruit and train drivers on time, sweeten the job with more effective incentives, and think through cost-efficient transportation options since last year’s bus shortage.
According to Viets the school district continues to double down on outsourcing the problem to private yellow bus vendors.
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