Massena schools seeing fewer bus riders, drivers

More Massena Central School parents are transporting their students to and from school, and that has created longer lines at schools such as Madison Elementary. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Because of social distancing requirements on buses, Massena Central School District officials have encouraged parents, if possible, to transport their students to and from school.

But that’s created a problem of its own, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said.

“We started school with more parents bringing their students to school like we requested that they do so our buses can be more social distanced,” Mr. Brady said. “We’ve seen that’s created longer lines, and dropping students off and picking them up has created some challenges for us. We’ve been working through that with the principals.”

Mr. Brady said Madison Elementary School Principal William Jaggers “has got a handle on it.” Traffic patterns at the school changed as part of the district’s current capital project.

But, he said, that’s only one issue facing the district. Like other schools, Massena is facing a shortage of substitutes and bus drivers.

“It was a problem before the pandemic and it’s continued to be a problem of substitutes, so we have administrators and other people who are having to go into cafeterias and classrooms to make sure that we can keep our doors open,” Mr. Brady said. “So we put a plug out there — we need substitutes. We’re hiring substitutes. We’re increasing the salaries of substitutes every year.”

A shortage on bus drivers is also a concern for school districts.

“You’re probably reading about the bus shortage,” Mr. Brady said. “One state’s even gone to activating their National Guard to drive buses for schools. Others are paying parents to transport their children to school. It’s a challenge. You’ll see sometimes, like on Fridays, we’ve had to cancel our after-school extra run in order to have enough buses to do sports runs. That’s happened a couple of Fridays.”

He said a new transportation director has been training substitute bus drivers.

“As fast as we’re training subs, some of them are getting jobs because we’ve had bus drivers that lave left,” he said. “So that continues to be a challenge for us as well.”

He also shared his concern about staff members who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Staff who are not vaccinated are making our system vulnerable, there’s no question about that, especially with the lack of subs,” he said. “If we have cases where they have to quarantine, we don’t have the staff to back that up. So, again, we encourage our staff to get vaccinated. It is a vulnerability for us.”

Mr. Brady said the district is reiterating to parents not to send their children to school if they’re showing signs of COVID-19.

“We put up quite a bit of resources on our web page — our reopening plan, what to do if you have symptoms. We again stress to our families, do not send your child to school if they are showing symptoms,” he said. “Many times you think it’s an allergy, you think it’s something else, and as it turned out, it’s not. It’s COVID and now we’re dealing with it with a lot of quarantining in schools.”

“We want to send that message strongly and want to send a message strongly that vaccinations are the most effective prevention for the virus, and we encourage both our staff and those eligible students to get vaccinated,” he added.

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