Parents may soon be able to transport students to and from extracurricular activities, thus helping to alleviate some of the school district’s transportation woes.
For liability reasons, parents are not currently allowed to transport their students to extracurricular activities if the district already provides transportation. But with bus driver shortages threatening to affect winter sports at Forestview Middle School, proposed parent waivers serve to take stress off bus drivers and make sure students can continue participating in their chosen sports and activities.
The Brainerd School Board approved the first reading Monday, Nov. 22, of an updated transportation policy that includes a waiver with three options for alternative transportation arrangements. One option would allow a parent to transport their own child to and from activities. The second would allow a parent to transport additional students, and a third would allow students with valid driver’s licenses to transport themselves to events with the permission of their parents. Students could transport siblings but not any other students.
“This is another one of the pieces of trying to work with solving this transportation issue that we have with some of our co-curricular and extracurricular activities,” Superintendent Laine Larson said Monday.
COVID-19 impact on transportation
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only cause of the statewide bus driver shortage, but it does have an effect. The school board heard earlier this month seven of the district’s bus drivers employed by Reichert experienced symptoms akin to COVID-19 since Sept. 20, with five having returned to work as of Nov. 8 and one dying from the disease. Roughly 70-80% of Reichert’s bus drivers are 65 and over, meaning they are at a higher risk of COVID-19 to begin with, Reichert Vice President Kevra Cherne told the board two weeks ago.
As of Monday, eight drivers were out for medical reasons, and three or four will likely be back on the road after the Thanksgiving break, Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn said.
The shortage of drivers has affected various daily routes, forcing consolidation of routes and parents to come up with creative solutions to get their children to school.
“We do want to say a special thank you to our parents. This has been challenging and difficult on them as well,” Hahn said. “... I think neighbors have been jumping in, and grandparents have been jumping in to try to get students to and from school as well. So we just thank people for their patience and their support.”
The good news, Hahn added, is Reichert is currently training six drivers who are about two weeks away from being fully licensed bus drivers. Of those drivers, three signed on to transport middle school students to activities, and three agreed to take on routes.
District officials have other short-term solutions in mind as well, including supervision through the district earlier or later in the day, allowing parents to drop kids off before work and pick them up after, or to allow for drivers to take on extra routes.
The district is seeking parent volunteers to help with those expanded supervision services.
The board agreed Monday to allow Superintendent Larson to work on an agreement with the YMCA, which has offered the use of a bus and a driver to help out as needed.
Parents and community members able to offer their services as a driver are encouraged to contact the transportation office at 218-454-6920.