GREENSBORO, N.C. — High school students at various Guilford County Schools in the city of High Point and the city of Greensboro won't have access to ride the school bus for the next two weeks. The district announced Friday that the change is due to a bus driver shortage amid rising COVID-19 numbers.
To make up for it, GCS Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras said high school students at certain schools will have access to free public transportation. That started Monday. Students can track their bus routes by downloading the TransLoc app on their Apple or Android smartphones.
Dr. Contreras said schools include but are not limited to High Point Central High School, T. Wingate Andrews High School, The Academy at Smith, the Middle College at NC A&T, the Middle College at GTCC, the Middle College at Bennett, and more.
“This is nothing any of us have experienced and it is causing us to do something unusual,” she said. “This is allowing us to keep schools open. I am grateful for all of the parents for their patience, I know it is frustrating…we did everything in our power to keep schools open this morning with our delays."
"These are very difficult times for us," Dr. Contreras added.
GCS, Guilford County, and High Point city leaders applauded the quick collaboration among the municipalities.
"We know bus transportation is very crucial to many students across Guilford County, particularly to students with working parents who aren’t able to drive their kids to school who depend on bus for transportation," said Carlvena Foster, a member of the Guilford County Board of Commissioner. "We suffered enough learning loss over the past year due to COVID and getting to school safely and timely. It’s very necessary for our students to be able to continue in the learning environment but also to be able to offer continuity in family situations so that families and parents aren’t stressing over how can my child get to school."
How is safety being addressed?
Parent Kelli Rose said she won't be able to drive her 14-year-old daughter to Page High School every day and is not comfortable sending her daughter on a city bus.
"There's no way in the world they should expect these 13 and 14-year-old females to get on the bus by themselves to get to and from school," said Rose.
Greensboro and High Point city officials are confident their public transportation systems are safe.
"We provide security at our depot which is the transportation hub where the transfers happen," said Kimberly Sowell, the assistant city manager of Greensboro. "So, if there are any concerns (or) questions that students would have, those security personnel will be available to assist them. Actually, on the buses, there are no security personnel but our bus drivers are trained to mediate if there are any types of concerns or anything that comes up. So, we have a very safe transit system there are very few incidents of concerns or any types of interactions that require intervention."
"We have thousands of transit riders each day. We have a broad avenue terminal in our center city where many of our students will be passing through. The police will be engaged in making sure that this new transportation option continues to be safe," said Greg Ferguson, assistant city manager of High Point.
Rose added there isn't public transportation near their home and the GCS announcement puts her in a tough spot.
"I'm looking at it as - you want my daughter to get up every morning and walk to a public transportation bus to wait on the bus to take her to and from school - which is unfair," Rose said.
As a parent, Rose thinks high school students should have gone to remote learning until GCS figures the transportation situation out. GCS leaders have said they do not want to go back to remote learning because overall, students suffered great learning loss during the 2020-21 school year.
"This affects us, parents, tremendously. It affects the children also because my daughter wants to go to school," Rose said. "She loves going to school, she loves going to Page. So, when I told her that the next two weeks (were) going to be hard for us to try to find transportation for her to go to school, she doesn’t like to hear that."
An unprecedented delay for some schools
This all started after the Triad's largest school district had to delay middle and high school start times on Friday, not because of bad weather or a power outage, but because they didn't have enough bus drivers to take kids to school. Guilford County Schools said COVID-19 is causing the staffing issues.
High school students started an hour and a half late. They weren't the only ones. Middle school students started an hour late.
It's a problem that may not go away anytime soon either, based on what Dr. Contreras said earlier this week.
"It is also possible we will not have enough bus drivers to provide transportation for all students to and from school. If you can bring your child to school, please do so," Dr. Contreras said Tuesday.
Before the latest COVID-19 surge, GCS was already having trouble filling open bus driver positions. Back in September, WFMY News 2 reported that GCS was trying to fill about 60 open bus driver jobs. GCS wasn't the only Triad district facing the staffing issue. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools reported that they were trying to fill about 90 bus driver jobs.
For now, GCS is the only Triad district that has had to delay school hours due to a lack of bus drivers.
“Parents be on the lookout for communication (regarding public transportation routes) over the weekend,” Dr. Contreras said. “We are asking parents that can drive their students to school, to please do so. This is a temporary crisis. Hopefully, we will get through this for the next couple of weeks.”
If you'd like to apply for a bus driver position with GCS, click here.