- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2021

Grown folk are acting as though getting school kids from Point A to Point B on regular school days is a death-defying act, whether in an urban school district like D.C. or a suburban system like neighboring Montgomery County.

Parents have options, ya know, and growing concerns about their children amid a shortage of school bus drivers.

In Wilmington, Delaware, for example, EastSide Charter School is paying parents $700 per child to drive their kids to school.

“EastSide wants to pay you $700 for the year for dropping off and picking up each child from school (example — if you have 3 children we would give you $2,100). Delaware is currently facing a bus driver shortage. We believe that empowering parents is the best solution,” the charter school says in a message to parents.

Parents are aware of their many options. They can drive their children to and from school or let them ride public transit, ride their bikes, walk or ride a school bus. School kids also can use Uber, Lyft and taxis.

Some parents even have the option of buying a car for their older children.

The reality of the bus driver shortage has school districts and governors rethinking how to tackle the problem.

Generally, parents must meet the same obligations as school bus drivers: Promise to pick up kids at Point A and drop them off at Point B on time each day.

Buses have delivered kids to incorrect addresses.

Buses have left students stranded.

In troubled weather, parents have dreaded the rocky start that school year 2021-22 has been so far — i.e., planning amid a pandemic.

Consider, too, that Mother Nature’s recent tornadic winds and torrential rains caught school bus drivers off guard, as will winter weather with treacherous snowy and icy roadways.

The overarching problem, though, is the nationwide shortage of bus drivers and the need to solve the problem amid a shortage of cafeteria workers and food preparers who are responsible for federal, state and local feeding programs before, during and after school.

Some school districts also have teacher shortages.

In an effort to resolve the bus driver shortage, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is demanding the state’s motor vehicle authorities to press ahead with commercial driver licensing and testing.

Likewise, New York’s governor is moving in the same direction and offering incentives.

Massachusetts’ governor is activating the National Guard to fill the school bus driver gap.

If fault is to be assigned, blame administrators for failing not only to count the number of hired and licensed school bus drivers but also to compare that total with the number of bus routes and students. 

That’s what happened in Pittsburgh, where the public school system fell short by 800 school bus seats to provide transportation for students. Now about 800 Pittsburgh families are considering walking their children.

Meanwhile, some school systems, including Montgomery County, are using mechanics and other school employees as bus drivers.

Getting drivers tested, licensed and hired could prove difficult as government bureaucracies can be breeding grounds for sluggish oversight.

School systems are still trying to hire drivers, but they also must weed out criminals and potential thugs while drawing the attention of drivers who already hold commercial driver’s licenses. Keeping troubled guys and gals out of the pipeline won’t be easy.

Again, getting school kids from Point A to Point B is rather easy.

The hard part is determining who should not be driving the school buses.

• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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