Current bus driver shortage is the worst L1 Transportation Director seen in more than 30 years

Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 7:57 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 30, 2021 at 7:59 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, S.C. (WIS) - With nearly 4,000 Lexington School District One students either sick with COVID-19 or in quarantine, the students that are making the daily commute to and from school are dealing with another repercussion from the virus: a critical bus driver shortage.

L1 Transportation Director Bill Kurts has been in supervision with school bus transportation since 1986 and said he’s never seen a shortage this bad.

According to district officials, L1 is currently down 50 percent of its bus drivers for the Lexington region, which serves 16 of the district’s 31 schools.

District-wide, there are more than 30 openings for school bus drivers. In addition to the open positions, some employed drivers are out for various reasons, including COVID-19 exposure or caring for a child in quarantine.

When asked if he believes the current shortage will last throughout the school year, Kurt said, “I hope not. I would like to see applicants start applying to become a bus driver. It’s a worthy job.”

In response, the district is forging an aggressive advertising push on the internet and on billboards to address a problem he says is only made worse due to COVID.

Many of the current L1 drivers are working overtime to help cover routes, Kurts said.

“We’re working them very heavily, very hard,” he said. “And as what we like to say double and triple-routing and sometimes quadruple-routing to where you have your bus route, and when you finish it, then you go and pick up another bus route. And then if you finish that one, if needed, then we’ll go pick up another bus route.”

L1 said parents should expect delays “in both pick-up and drop-off of students.” Kurts asked parents for their patience as the district seeks to build up its workforce.

“Please be understanding,” he said. “Please bear with us because we are truly trying to do our best. We don’t like these circumstances either.”

Christofer Cook, the parent of an L1 student, said the district is not at fault here.

“Lexington has one of the highest rates of COVID infection in the state,” he said in a written statement. “Perhaps if more citizens in this town had taken the virus more seriously, by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, keeping six feet of distance from others, and following responsible quarantine procedures, we wouldn’t have the shortage we do now. Lexington School District One is not to blame. Irresponsible members of the community have brought us here.”

As the district deals with this issue, students are under a new mask mandate on school buses as of Monday, August 30.

RELATED STORY | SC education dept. to enforce mask mandate on school buses

The South Carolina Department of Education announced last week that it would reinforce the face-covering requirement for both drivers and students “in an effort to mitigate virus transmission and keep our schools open and operating as safely as possible.”

Kurts is cautiously optimistic that the updated mask guidance will drive some people who were hesitant to now apply. However, he says if last year was any indication, the mandate won’t change much.

“It’s hard to theorize on that because last year we had a mask mandate and we didn’t have a lot of applicants then, either,” he said. “But COVID, in general, does probably have a big, big part in [the shortage].”

The SC Department of Education said it will provide all state-owned buses with an adequate supply of masks in light of the policy shift. No student will be denied transportation for failing to adhere to the order, however.

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