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Bus driver shortages cause school districts to cancel some daily routes 

For much of the 2021-22 school year, many school districts have experienced a greater need for substitute teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and other support personnel who can fill in for employees who need to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19.

For Macon County, there is a shortage of substitute bus drivers, with the district not having enough drivers to cover day-to-day, resulting in some routes being canceled entirely. 

“Some of the routes that are missing a driver and can’t be run, can be covered with neighboring routes, but that is not always the case,” said Todd Gibbs with Macon County Schools. “Because of the geography of the area, time constraints, and limited number of bus seats, we can’t always double up two routes on to one bus”

Macon County Schools currently has 52 bus routes assigned in Macon County serving all schools within the county. There are three buses each that serve Highlands School and Nantahala School with the other 49 buses serving the Franklin area. Of these 49 buses, five are dedicated Exceptional Children buses and only serve the EC population.

“If we have all drivers well, and not quarantined, we have all of those 52 routes covered with regular route drivers,” said Gibbs. “With COVID, we have at least a couple of drivers out each day.”

According to Gibbs, the principals and assistant principals work diligently to try to ensure every bus runs its route, but that is not always possible.

“We have asked the administrators that if a bus does not run, they get the word out to parents as soon as possible,” said Gibbs. “We know canceled bus routes are an inconvenience to parents and family members. We understand the importance of getting students home safely, and in a timely manner, but we, legally, can’t put just anyone on a bus to drive it.”

There is a process, spelled out by state and federal DOT, to ensure that drivers are properly trained to drive kids home on a school bus. 

To help combat the staff shortages, Gov. Cooper’s new directive will allow state employees to use paid leave to serve as substitute staff in schools while also keeping any compensation they earn as substitutes. The State Human Resource Commission’s Community Service Leave Policy states that full-time state employees are eligible for 24 hours of paid community service leave each calendar year. This leave may be used by state employees with supervisor approval and will not interfere with or delay state government operations.

“State employees always step up to help our state in challenging times and this policy gives our talented employees yet another way to serve their communities,” said Barbara Gibson, State Human Resources Director.

Under the updated policy, state employees are eligible to use community service leave for time spent training to be a substitute teacher, substitute teacher’s assistant, or other substitute staff at a school or school district. State employees are also eligible to use community service leave for other volunteer activities, regardless of compensation.

The policy went into effect on January 12, 2022, and will end on February 15, 2022.

Gibbs said that Macon County Schools welcomes anyone who enjoys being around students, and who would like to help out by going through the process of becoming a bus driver, to call Gibbs at the Macon County School Board of Education at 524-3314 ext 1029.

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