WILMINGTON —Wilmington City Schools’ transportation system — as well as students and parents — have been struggling this week because of a shortage of bus drivers due to absences caused by illnesses.
“Wilmington has a very dedicated and loyal transportation department that cares deeply about the safety and education of our students. However, due to a statewide shortage of bus drivers, we struggle with having adequate numbers of substitute drivers when we experience multiple absences,” stated WCS Superintendent Mindy McCarty-Stewart in a communication to residents of the district. “On several occasions this year, with the flexibility of our drivers and cooperation of our students and families, we have doubled up on routes (Level 1 Plan).”
She explained, “This week we have had an unprecedented number of drivers out for medical reasons due to a combination of COVID-related and non-COVID-related illness. Rather than closing school to 2,400 students again — as we did on Tuesday — we were able to have select drivers run multiple routes back-to-back (Level 2 Plan). This created some delays to two of our routes, but we were able to keep our schools open on Wednesday and Thursday.
“However, by Thursday afternoon we had additional medical issues that necessitated canceling an entire route for Friday, Sept. 10, as a Level 3 Plan. This was a last resort to avoid closing schools entirely to 2,400 students and not one that we chose lightly.
“We were able to notify affected parents at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in the hopes that it would provide them time to work out alternative transportation to and from school the next day.”
Schools were open Friday, but with Level 1, 2, and 3 bus plans implemented.
“While these are not ideal solutions, they enabled us to keep our schools open for more than 2,400 students,” McCarty-Stewart said. “We are grateful for the understanding of the WCS families impacted. We are also proud of our transportation department staff, our drivers, and our mechanics who have worked tirelessly the last few weeks to transport nearly 1,500 students in a 161 square-mile district.
“Many have taken on parts of other routes to get all our students to school. Others have added back to back routes to keep our schools open. Those that are absent are fighting a number of illnesses and medical emergencies.
“It is our hope that in the next week enough drivers and substitutes will be healthy and back in rotation, and our families can be assured of transportation to and from school for their child.”